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Stephens County economy rebounds

Though there's certainly room for growth, the Stephens County economy has rebounded significantly from a couple of years ago, when local energy industry service companies were on their heels and the unemployment rate was hovering around 10 percent.

Stephens County fared better than most through the five-year Great Recession beginning in 2007 as healthy oil and gas prices and demand for energy fueled job growth in industries like Halliburton and Wilco. As production worldwide began to outpace demand, however, activity in the energy industry waned. When oil prices dipped as low as $27 a barrel in 2016, economies in Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states reliant on the industry were battered. By June 2016 the unemployment rate in Stephens County was 11.6 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past year or so, as oil prices have rebounded, so has employment in the Duncan area. Chris Moore, with the Duncan office of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, said the office has seen fewer people in need of help finding a job in recent months.

"We have seen significantly less foot traffic even from three months ago," he said.

According to Chris Deal, president of the Duncan Chamber of Commerce, local retail activity has begun to pick up. A few new restaurants have come to town and other retailers have reopened after remodeling. Sales tax receipts for Duncan in December totaled just over $1.2 million  compared to $940,800 recorded in December 2016. Sales tax receipts recorded by the county in December were nearly $329,000  compared to receipts totaling about $265,000 in December 2016.

Deal attributed the upswing in business to hiring taking place at some of the major companies in the Duncan area. 

Lyle Roggow, president of the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation, said companies are projecting more confidence that economies  local and national  will continue to gain strength.

"I think things are improving out there for us," he said. "I just think people's confidence is there, that things are now more stable and that we're beginning naturally to grow."

The county has experienced a decline in workforce numbers attributed to the recent downturn. In November, there were 17,808 workers counted. According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the county's labor force in recent years has usually hovered above 20,000. Roggow said he would expect the workforce numbers to begin trending upward again as the energy economy strengthens and as the Stephens County economy diversifies. Some skilled workers who may have left in recent years to find work elsewhere should return, and others who haven't ever worked in the county should be attracted by new opportunities as they develop.

"I think we have people with skills who would come back to Duncan without hesitation because they loved it here," he said. "(And) I think we're seeing an increase in (skills) training once again."

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