Albany County’s economy is looking steady according to reports from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division. The reports show stable job growth and sales tax collections, especially compared to other counties. However, cost of living changes for the state could impact Albany County greater than other counties.
According to a report from the Research and Planning section of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Albany County saw a modest increase in seasonally-adjusted unemployment numbers from 2.7 percent in October of 2017 to 2.9 percent in 2018.
“Overall, looking at the numbers for Albany county, it doesn’t really suggest that anything’s going on,” said David Bullard, senior economist with the Department of Workforce Services. “It appears pretty stable.”
While the unemployment percentage went up minimally, the Department of Workforce Services’ report shows Albany County’s labor force jumped from 20,166 in September 2018 to 20,968 in October 2018, and the employment force jumped 141 people this year, too. Bullard said the increased labor force and employment force numbers are a good sign for Albany County’s economy.
“It’s good to see both the employment and labor force up from a year ago, while at statewide level it’s down,” Bullard said. “For whatever reason, Albany County does seem to doing better than the state as a whole by that measure.”
Bullard said he wasn’t sure why the county’s workforce numbers were doing better than the state as a whole, which saw a decrease of 4,894 in labor force since 2017, but added many of the counties that aren’t as stable tend to be impacted by the volatile energy sector, especially oil and gas.
To further add to the county’s stability, the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division’s Wyoming Insight report for November shows Albany County’s share of the state’s sales tax dollars stable at around 3 percent. However, there was a slight growth in amount of sales tax collected in Albany County.
“After the first four months of fiscal 2019, the county has collected about 4.1 percent, or $300,000, more compared to last year over the same amount of time,” said Jim Robinson, principal economist for Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.
Robinson added the growth, while stable, tends to be slower than other counties due to Laramie’s smaller tax base.
“Government entities are exempt from paying taxes on purchases, and with the presence of the university in Laramie, this is significant,” Robinson said. “Of course, students, faculty and staff do pay taxes on their purchases along with the rest of the residents.”
Despite the smaller numbers, Robinson said Albany County’s sales tax dollars are especially stable compared to counties with a heavier energy-sector. He said while counties like Campbell and Converse counties have recently seen larger year-over-year gains in collections, it’s only because they are recovering from losses when oil prices started to drop in 2014.
“Albany County’s slow but steady population growth over the years, along with being at least partially insulated from the mining boom and bust cycle that plagues the energy counties, helps to explain why the county’s sales and use tax collections typically show modest growth year after year,” Robinson said.
Although the workforce numbers and sales tax numbers have stayed stable in October, the cost of living has not. According to the Wyoming Insight report, Wyoming’s cost of living index for the second quarter of 2018 is 3.3 percent higher than in 2017, compared to the national rate of 2.9 percent. Robinson said the cost of living increases can hit Albany County harder than some counties due to varied levels of income sources.
“For those residents who have jobs in the private sector, wages on average have been increasing in Albany County, meaning that some of the impact of inflation could be offset by wage and salary increases,” Robinson said. “For residents who work in city and county government and at the University of Wyoming, even moderate inflation can be a burden as these entities and state government have not allowed for salary increases the last few years.”
Robinson added for those on fixed income, like social security, the cost of living increase can especially hurt because it’s a “reduction in their purchasing power.”