MODESTO — Stanislaus County saw its lowest unemployment rate in almost five years this May, and all before the coming hundreds of Amazon jobs have been counted.
The jobless rate dropped to 12.2 percent, down from a revised 13.3 percent in April and 15.2 percent in May 2012, according to a report from the state Employment Development Department.
Helping to lead the county out of the teens was growth in the retail trade and transportation/warehousing industries. Those numbers are expected to continue to improve with the announcement earlier this week that Amazon had begun hiring what many expect to be some 1,000 jobs to staff its new Patterson fulfillment center.
"Trade, transportation, utilities and retail trade continue to show some solid growth," said EDD labor market analyst Sheila Urdesich. "They're strong."
The 3 percent drop from just a year ago was mirrored in surrounding counties as well. Merced fell 3.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, and San Joaquin dipped 3.3 percentage points to 11.5 percent from last May.
The rates place Stanislaus county at its lowest unemployment since November 2008, right as the housing market bubble burst and the recession began to be felt across the country.
"The improvement in the unemployment rate stands out," said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific. "The rate normally comes down this time of year, but this is more than normal."
In the past five years, the April-to-May dip in the jobless rate has averaged less than half a percentage point. This year, it was more than a full percentage point lower.
While unemployment in the area typically lowers in the late spring and early summer thanks to the farming and associated food manufacturing seasons, the cyclical dips were helped by steady year-to-year growth in other industries.
Retail trade added 600 jobs from this time last year, and transportation/warehousing was up 500 jobs. Leisure and hospitality grew by 200 year-to-year.
Some high-profile business openings have helped this spring. In Modesto, Central Valley Specialty Hospital recently hired 160 employees as it prepares to open in mid-July. In Turlock, the Blue Diamond processing plant celebrated its grand opening earlier this week. It has hired 50 employees and plans for an additional 40 or 50 before year's end.
Still, the biggest single job producer should be Amazon, which announced on Wednesday that it has begun to hire for the hundreds and hundreds of warehouse floor positions that will help pick, pack and ship products for the retail giant.
Amazon recruiters will hold two informational meetings Tuesday at Modesto Centre Plaza to help job seekers navigate how to apply. The sessions will be at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and limited to the first 600 people at each event.
No applications will be accepted at the seminars, but the following day, the Alliance Worknet Career Resource Centers in Modesto and Patterson will be open for extended hours to help people who need computer help. Applications for all of the Amazon positions are being accepted only online, at www.amazonfulfillmentcareers.com.
The Modesto Alliance center, 629 12th St., will be open from 7 to 9:30 a.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m., and the Patterson center, 66 N. El Circulo, will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for Amazon application help.
Michael said warehousing has become one of the Central Valley's bright spots and continues to attract businesses seeking a base to move goods around the state.
"With or without Amazon, there is a strong recognition of the region as a logistics hub," he said. "It isn't like Amazon put you on the map. The location has already been competitive and on the map. But with the Amazon hiring just getting under way, we know there'll be a lot more coming."