Jobless rates in the Twin Counties continue to stabilize as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Unemployment for both Columbia and Greene counties is below the state average at 5.5% and 6.7%, respectively. Private sector jobs increased by 11,500 statewide, according to the state Department of Labor.

About 6,500 Greene County residents and nearly 11,000 Columbia County residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine tracker.

“The increase in vaccinations is encouraging in terms of the ability to continue to reopen the economy in a safe manner,” Columbia Economic Development Corporation F. Michael Tucker said. “We need to remain on guard, however, until a sufficient number of residents receive the vaccination. As this evolves, we are all hopeful that Columbia County businesses can continue to get back to normal. As the economy and schools reopen, hopefully it will take pressure off parents who have child-care issues impacting their ability to work.”

Greene County Economic Development and Planning Director Karl Heck was also optimistic about the future.

“As more people get the vaccine, the economy should get more back to normal,” he said.

Summer attractions such as Zoom Flume should be able to open this summer, Heck said.

As the vaccination rate increases, residents and visitors will feel more comfortable going to events, Heck said. And

the housing market remains strong.

“Right now, it’s looking like 2021 is going to be a really good year,” Heck said, adding that sales tax was up 6.3% last year.

Columbia County’s unemployment was at 3.2% prior to the pandemic and the number of people out of work has increased from about 700 people to between 1,200 and 1,500, Tucker said.

“There’s an additional 600 to 800 people out of work but that doesn’t take into account people whose hours have been reduced or people who have taken other jobs,” he said.

Greene County’s unemployment rate is about 2.5% higher than it was before the pandemic, Heck said, adding that he believes the rate is higher than what is officially reported.

“Relative to the state, we’re in a lot better shape,” he said. “Greene County typically tracks higher than the state, we’re now three points below. New York City unemployment is still at 13% to 14%.” The county is down about 500 to 700 jobs, Heck said.

“We’re doing better than other places, but obviously you’d like to not be down at all,” he said.

The hospitality sector is down 30%, Heck said, adding that the county fared better than its Columbia County counterpart.

“We were able to get a winter season with the ski resorts,” he said. “It was not quite as packed but they were able to open.”

The employment figures also do not include remote workers living in Greene County but working for a company outside of the area, Heck said.

With warm weather on the horizon, Tucker is hopeful that the hospitality industry will make a comeback.

“We’ve very optimistic that our restaurant and hospitality sector will continue to come online as the summer tourism season approaches,” he said. “Also our arts, cultural and tourism venues appear to be gearing up as well.”

Some businesses, although open, have had to reduce their workforce, Tucker said.

“If you had to reduce head count during the pandemic, that head count may not return to the same levels in the future for a variety of reasons — the demand for goods and services, increased use of technology and other efficiencies,” he said.

About 70% of businesses in Columbia County have fewer than 10 employees, Tucker said.

The workplace is evolving at a faster pace because of the pandemic, Heck said.

“Technology replacement is everywhere,” he said.

Many retailers have shifted to offering curbside or delivery services.

“There’s an evolution of work that in the end, benefits us,” Heck said. “Remote workers that are working in California or Manhattan are located here because they like having a mountain house. That’s a change that’s going to stick.”

Automation of services has been accelerated, Heck said.

“Robots don’t get sick,” he said.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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