Dawson County ended 2011 with a 7.6 percent unemployment rate, its lowest since December 2008.
January's rate is up slightly to 8 percent, but still significantly below the level of the last few years.
Charlie Auvermann, executive director for the Development Authority of Dawson County, said the numbers are an encouraging indication the economy may be picking up locally.
Auvermann began tracking the county's employment rates in mid-2007. That November, it was at 3.5 percent.
"Technically, everybody that really wanted to work was probably working then," Auvermann said. "That was across the board.
"You had a lot of construction. You had a lot of business. You had a lot of sells. The restaurants, the outlet mall, Home Depot [were] the best as far as employment was concerned."
The county's jobless rate started to rise a few months into 2008 as the recession hit the area, reaching nearly 8 percent by the end of that year.
"It was pretty dramatic," Auvermann said. "You can see the last part of 2008, in October and November when the financial crisis was going, it really started to climb."
That climb continued for a couple of years, through January 2011, when the county hit a record high at 11.2 percent.
Auvermann said industries in health and medicine, as well as sales and management, have begun to rebound, while construction continues to lag.
"Construction and blue-collar type jobs are industries that tend to pick up once the economy picks up," Auvermann said.
"When you look at the businesses that have come in 2011 - Varsity, the motorsports park, the RaceTrac gas station, the refurbished Burger King - those create those construction jobs."
Available inventory for new business in the area is also limited.
"I think you'll see in the next few years the construction side of it begin to come back as well," he said. "But no one's going to build those buildings unless they are very confident they are going to have tenants, so that's got to happen first."
While the county's overall jobless rate has fallen, unemployment among teenagers and people without high school diplomas remains as high as 14 to 15 percent, Auvermann said.
"Those jobs are being taken by people who are willing to accept jobs even though they are qualified for higher level positions," he said.