FARMINGTON — San Juan County gained 600 jobs in February, helping compensate for falling job growth during the past year, according to a state report.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 6.7 percent, an increase from 6.6 percent in January, according to seasonally adjusted figures. That was an improvement from 6.9 percent a year earlier.

In February, private employers added 200 jobs, split evenly between goods-producing and service industries. Local government added 400 jobs, rebounding to year-ago levels.

The jobs report released Friday by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions provides a shot of good news amid some worrying developments for the local economy.

ConocoPhillips announced March 27 that it will suspend its drilling program in the San Juan Basin. The move means about 20 employees could be transferred to other locations outside the basin, and another 20 may be given other roles locally.

However, the decision to stop the work of three drilling rigs is rippling through the company's contractors.

It was only the latest sign of drillers pulling back from natural-gas exploration in San Juan County. Companies are producing more oil from the basin, but the increase has not fully compensated for the sharp drop-off in natural gas activity.

Job losses are also expected at Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine later this year as the coal-fired plant's owners shut down its three oldest units.


"With the ConocoPhillips news and some of the more recent news about power plant operations, we would be expecting to see that unemployment number worsen — but I don't know if we can say when that will happen," said Mayor Tommy Roberts.

However, there are also positive indicators — new retail stores have opened in recent weeks, and further developments are planned. The real estate market is also heating up.

"I'm a bit confused because we think we're losing jobs, but when you talk to Realtors ... there's people buying houses and buying furniture like crazy," said Steve Dunn, a Four Corners Economic Development board member. Dunn also serves as drilling and production manager at Merrion Oil and Gas in Farmington.

There is some evidence of a bounce-back in local real estate. The median price of homes sold rose to $171,450 in February, up from $164,000 a year ago, according to the San Juan County Board of Realtors. The number of homes sold rose to 50, up from 43 a year earlier. Average time on market dropped from 112 days to 97.

Statewide, the unemployment rate rose to 6.8 percent in February, up from 6.6 percent in January. A year ago, New Mexico had a 7 percent unemployment rate.

The national unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in February.

The Department of Workforce Solutions noted New Mexico led the nation in export growth in 2012 as exports surged 42.5 percent. Much of that growth was tied to Intel's facility in Rio Rancho, which does substantial sales to Israel. That nation now outpaces Mexico as New Mexico's top trade partner.

Chuck Slothower may be reached at; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter