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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
A restaurant near Ballard, Utah, sits empty in February 2016 as the economy in the Uinta Basin continues to struggle due to low oil prices.

VERNAL — The continuing glut in oil and natural gas has not only plunged prices at the gas pump, it's plunging hope for jobs in Utah's Uinta Basin.

While Utah as a whole enjoys one of the lowest jobless rates in the nation, it's a different story in the basin, where November unemployment stood at 7.5 percent in Duchesne County and 8.5 percent in Uintah County.

"It's still pretty flat," said Bob Gilbert of the Department of Workforce Services. "A lot of people have moved away; a lot of people have given up hope."

A Utah-based company has a hope of its own, however, with a dozen employees traveling to the Uinta Basin for a pair of job recruiting events on Saturday targeted at hiring as many people as they can get.

"We are very excited," Gilbert said. "The response has been stronger than any of us would have expected."

McKenzie Mitchell, human resources director for HireSearch, heard about the plight of workers in the basin from a current employee who grew up in Roosevelt.

Although the company is seeking work-at-home call center employees from throughout the state, Mitchell said it is targeting recruitment in the basin because of the hard-hit economy.

"I told her we were having a hard time hiring people and she told us about people there having a hard time finding work," she said.

Both Gilbert and Mitchell said they expected about 30 people to register for a pair of training seminars the company is presenting at the Department of Workforce Services offices in Roosevelt and Vernal. More than 150 have registered so far, but slots remain open. Advanced registration is required for the trainings: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Roosevelt and from 2 until 7 p.m. in Vernal. Those interested can go to hiresearch.com/Roosevelt

The jobs pay between $9 and $11 per hour with training that is provided. The call center workers actually work from home, in four-hour flexible shifts, and in this case they contact people who have already expressed interest in working for Uber.

Mitchell said there are no "cold calls" and the company — which serves as an intermediary for 20 different clients — offers financial incentives depending upon productivity.

Gilbert said the infusion of potential new jobs is welcome in a stagnant job market.

While there was an uptick in the fall with some local workover rigs and trucking companies doing hiring, there's been little new employment to come by, Gilbert said. A few stores inside a Vernal mall that opened about 18 months ago have closed.

There is a new high school in Roosevelt being built, but the construction jobs were plucked up quickly, he added.

Crude oil price history chart

The price for a barrel of crude oil dropped from a high of $104.95 in May of 2014 to $29.01 in January of last year. It has since climbed back to $53.72 as of December, but the jobs have been slow to return, and most of the active drilling rigs have fled the state.

Oil and gas severance taxes collected by the state also saw a sharp decline, plummeting from $89 million in 2014 to $70 million in 2015.

A different revenue stream that affects the regulatory bottom line of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining also suffered, resulting in more than a $1 million shortfall that was plugged by a hiring freeze and other emergency measures.

While not the high-paying jobs of the oil and gas fields, Gilbert said the call center jobs provide some hope in a country that has seen dwindling supply.