Western Sugar layoffs reflected in unemployment rate

Andrew D. Brosig/Torrington Telegram Ty Lewis harvests dry edible beans for J.D. Farms on Sept. 20 along Experiment Farm Road northwest of Scottsbluff, Neb. The loss of agriculture-related jobs with the closing of the Western Sugar factory in Torrington helped drive a jump in county unemployment numbers.

TORRINGTON – Months after the Western Sugar processing facility shuttered its doors and laid off hundreds of employees, the impact has become visible in the local unemployment rate. 

A quarterly report from the Wyoming Department of Workforces Services is showing a slight rise in the statewide unemployment rate from 3.6 percent to 3.7 percent, but the percentage increased much more dramatically in Goshen County. 

Unemployment has jumped from 3.4 percent to 3.7 percent since the last quarterly report was released in May. Since May 2017, the unemployment rate in Goshen County has risen from 3.3 percent to 3.7 percent. 

Gilbert Servantez, Torrington Workforce Center Manager, said the most recent decline is likely due to the Western Sugar shutdown. 

“These reports are run quarterly, and I’m thinking the Western Sugar lay-offs have probably had something to do with that for our area,” he said. 

Servantez said the collapse of the Fort Laramie-Gering Irrigation Canal in July likely didn’t have an impact on the statistics, but there is a chance the loss of temporary harvest jobs due to the lack of an irrigation source could surface on a later report. 

“With harvest coming up, a person is truly not going to know how that is going to look until harvest begins,” he said. “At this point in time, I just don’t see that the canal has any impact in the rise in unemployment.”

The Torrington Workforce Center has helped several displaced workers laid off by Western Sugar attain commercial driver’s licenses and purchase tools necessary for a career change. The TWC has also provided housing assistance to displaced workers, Servantez said.

Servantez said he expects to see more displaced workers in the coming weeks, as their six-month unemployment insurance comes to an end. 

“I’m sort of speculating that once unemployment runs out for a handful of these people that have been looking and haven’t been successful, we’ll probably see an increase in some of these displaced workers coming in,” he said.

“We’re sort of coming up with some game plans moving forward because we are anticipating another influx of workers once that UI runs out. We’ve been working with them, it’s just a matter of trying to find that right job for them.”

Goshen County had the third largest increase in unemployment. Natrona County was at the top of the list after a .5 percent increase, left with a 4.5 percent unemployment rate. Hot Springs County was second, jumping from 3.1 percent to 3.5 percent. Campbell County’s percentage of unemployed workers dropped from 5.7 percent to 4.5 percent the largest decrease in jobless numbers in Wyoming but that was still tied the highest unemployment rate in the state. 

Teton County had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.0 percent, followed by Niobrara County at 2.6 percent. 

The next statewide unemployment report will be released on Oct. 22. 


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