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Farmington sees rise in unemployment rate

Despite career fairs and lure of better-paying jobs, employers are scrambling to find help
Kyle Rodeles, a lifeguard at Bisti Bay at Brookside Park in Farmington, keeps an eye on swimmers in the pool. The city is still looking for lifeguards to work this season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

FARMINGTON – Restaurant, hospitality and retail industries in Farmington are struggling to find enough workers to fill shifts, much like businesses are across the country.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Farmington was steadily dropping each month beginning in January, with 11% unemployment and ending in May with 8.5% unemployment. As of July 30, that number rose to 9.9% – the highest it has been since February.

Yet restaurants, hotels and retail businesses are finding their operations understaffed, said Jamie Church, Farmington Chamber of Commerce CEO, in an email to The Durango Herald.

The city of Farmington has more than 40 job openings and has received more than 300 applicants, said Georgette Allen, spokeswoman for the city. And the San Juan County Detention Center is holding a job fair Thursday, in which job offers will be made on the spot to qualifying candidates.

Tom Swenk, the city’s human resource director, said the city had 43 job postings in June, some seeking to fill multiple positions, for a total of 77 positions. That was slightly more than in March 2020, pre-pandemic, when the city had 38 job postings with an unknown number of open positions.

The city has filled a “large number” of seasonal positions, said Christa Chapman, spokeswoman for parks and recreation, but several positions remain open for lifeguards.

One of those seasonal positions was filled by lifeguard Kyle Rodeles, who also worked a few previous seasons with the exception of 2020. Rodeles moved to Farmington from the Philippines five years ago when he was 15. He said he followed his father’s footsteps. Life guarding in Farmington was his father’s first job in the United States.

“I have been swimming for my whole life, cause I had to hunt fish when I was in the Philippines,” Rodeles said.

Kyle Rodeles, a lifeguard at Bisti Bay at Brookside Park in Farmington, works the waterslide. The city is still looking for lifeguards to work this season. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said his favorite part about working at Bisti Bay is seeing the little kids having fun and the adrenaline rush from saving someone.

“Little kids bobbing to the deep side, and they’re drowning and I go in and save them and their mom is like, ‘They weren’t drowning, they know how to swim,’” Rodeles said.

Kyle Rodeles, a lifeguard at Bisti Bay at Brookside Park in Farmington, walks the pool area. The city is still looking for lifeguards to work this season, despite filling positions at the career fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

On the hospitality side, Addie Betancourt, who is director of sales for Home2Suites on Browning Parkway, said parts of the hotel operation have also struggled to become fully staffed. Specifically, Betancourt said housekeeping, breakfast prep and the laundry department are “physically harder” jobs and most difficult to staff.

“We are having a very difficult time bringing on new people and keeping them,” Betancourt said. “So we might get five hired, three people show up, two make it a few weeks, one makes it two days, and then we’re back to hiring five people again.”

She said what the hotel management staff members are hearing most from people who leave is that “people haven’t worked for so many months and they feel like it is too hard.”

While the hotel has not increased pay recently to entice more hires, it did implement a raise to all of its employees during COVID-19 based on a “wage comparison” to other local businesses, not specifically hotels, but what Betancourt said provided excellent customer service and hospitality.

“We know that we are one of the highest-paying hotels in Farmington,” Betancourt said.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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