Encouraging signs for Merced County job seekers

MERCED COUNTY

Merced County added a number of new stores and restaurants last month alone. And local leaders say some key projects could bring more jobs to the area in the near future.

Merced County's unemployment rate has dropped for three straight months, even though other Valley counties saw increasing numbers in October.

Pedro Vargas said, "It's kind of unusual, but here in Merced, we're happy about it (big smile)."

Vargas with the employment development department says many counties were hit hard by the loss of farming jobs, which happens every year around this time. But Merced made up for those losses in other areas.

"One of the things that is coming on strong is trade and transportation," said Vargas. "We have added 200 additional new jobs, 100 in wholesale trade, and another hundred in retail trade, so it does look positive."

Merced did lose about 140 positions when Werner Ladder closed its production facility last month. But the city added a large Hobby Lobby store and multiple restaurants, including a Black Bear Diner and Mooyah Burger. More shops have also opened recently in downtown, and the city's development manager expects a big boost once a massive renovation project is complete at the historic theatre.

Frank Quintero said, "Merced theatre is really going to be a big anchor for Downtown Merced, and we expect to see a boom in the hospitality and the boutique type stores once that project is done."

Quintero says four projects happening at UC Merced should also help the local construction industry, which took a huge hit when the housing market crashed.

Lynn Blanson is one of thousands of workers who lost their jobs at that time. He's now trying to find work as a truck driver.

"Are you feeling any more optimistic that things are going to get better?"

"Yeah, like I said I got a part time job now, working at a truck stop, but I'm getting closer to the trucks."

Merced County's unemployment rate is also nearly half a percentage point better than it was last year at the same time. But about 17 thousand people are still unemployed.

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