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(NECN: Jack Thurston, South Burlington, Vt.) - Things are really taking shape at Vermont's famous Shelburne Museum, where a new art and education center is set to open this year. Inside, contractors from Omega Electric Construction of South Burlington, Vt. are wiring the 18,000 square foot building.
"We're enjoying that busyness," said Al Senecal, Omega's owner.
Senecal said his more than 120 employees have several big jobs going right now. And that has helped Vermont emerge as the New England state with the lowest unemployment rate: 4.4 percent. The figure is more than three points lower than the national average, and 2.5 points lower than the New England average.
Vermont's unemployment rate ties it with South Dakota for the third-lowest unemployment rate in the country, behind only Nebraska and North Dakota. North Dakota's 3.3 percent jobless rate is the nation's best, according to February numbers from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We love being at four percent or a little below," said Mathew Barewicz of the Vt. Labor Dept., acknowledging how the number is close to the level the labor economist would call "extremely healthy."
Barewicz told New England Cable News that the Green Mountain State is also leading the region in job gains, citing 2,200 between October and November of 2012. Those gains helped increase employment by .7 percent, said Barewicz, quoting federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
"Vermont has a very diverse economy and I think that presents a lot of opportunities for its residents," he explained. "Whether that be jobs for individuals with a high school education or bachelor's degree or beyond."
Barewicz said he sees construction as a top sector poised for continued growth, though noted that employers in other fields are starting to let the Vt. Labor Dept. know about vacancies.
The picture isn't entirely rosy, however. Economic development leaders are desperate to attract more young people to Vermont to live and work. The state is the second-oldest in the nation, demographically.
"We need more young workers," Senecal said, pointing out the trades in particular in Vermont seem to have an aging workforce. "We're willing to train."
Despite the demographic challenges, overall, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt. said the latest job numbers have him more encouraged now than since the recession started in 2007.
"We're not here to say, 'Mission accomplished!' We're not here to say, 'We've done it,'" Shumlin told reporters. "What we're here to say is Vermont's on the right track. You're going to see this number go up and down. It will. It was a point higher just a few months ago."
Shumlin said he's closely watching Washington, D.C. and the federal budget debate there, fearing uncertainty from the sequester could impact employment.
As for businessman Al Senecal, he told NECN he sees more success ahead for his firm. "For the next year, I'd say we're pretty optimistic," Senecal said, smiling.