Unemployment highest in state

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The unemployment rate in Marshall County more than doubled in 12 months to a new high of 18.9 percent, the highest rate in Tennessee, state and local officials have announced.

"As of Thursday, it was 18.9 percent," Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, reported to Lewisburg's Industrial Development Board on Monday. "We're tied with Lauderdale County."

That rate is for December, the most recent record available. It represents the percentage of people in the workforce who do not have a job. Twelve months earlier, in December 2008, the unemployment rate was 9 percent here.

Rounded statistics are from raw numbers showing the county workforce was 12,320 in December when 10,000 of those people were employed. One year earlier, the workforce was reported at 12,480 with 11,250 working.

The unemployment rate came with some good news, according to city and county recruiters. One recently landed business is branching out and long-time industries are hiring again. The growth picture, however, seems at its darkest now.

Some 2,320 people are "out of work" in Marshall County," Wiles said, noting Maury County has 5,420 unemployed and Bedford County's jobless workers now number 2,660. Unemployment rates are lower there because there are more people in the workforce.

A high unemployment rate, however, qualifies a county for state assistance and Greg Lowe, one of the city's industrial development staffers, reported a presentation has been made to Deputy Gov. John Morgan to get more help attracting jobs.

"What can the state do to help us, other than bring plants here?" City Councilman Robin Minor asked during the IDB meeting Monday in City Hall. Lowe replied, "More access to the businesses coming through" during industrialists' search for more advantageous locations.

State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) also attended the city meeting Monday afternoon. In an interview that morning, Tracy mentioned the deputy governor, the state's immediate past comptroller of the state treasury, and advocacy for Marshall County's economic development.

The unemployment rate, Wiles said, "is the bad news. Want some rosy news? In our business park, a candle factory is open and it will have a grand opening on Feb. 18." The Will & Baumer candle company is a business acquired by the religious supply company that moved its distribution operations here from Phoenix, Ariz.

And, Wiles said, "Where we had a decline" in operations at businesses in the city's Industrial Park, there is increased employment. Those businesses include Walker Die Casting, CKNA, Teledyne and Ace Bayou.

Still, the end of pencil manufacturing by Sanford Co. at the factory just several blocks from downtown, employment is down to about 15 people, Wiles said. That plant's owners announced on Nov. 11, 2008 that it would close the plant and eliminate 350 jobs here.

Lowe noted that Smurfitt Stone, a corrugated cardboard box company "has retooled and bounced back," with an increase of about 10 jobs after a dip realized with the company's reorganization through Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy laws to allow reorganization.

That legal avenue isn't as bad as it sometimes seems, Lowe said, noting the Cosmolab cosmetics plant is to be acquired by a German company once reorganization is accomplished during protection from creditors under a petition to the bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del.

Now, as a candle factory is about to celebrate its grand opening, the plant's parent company is developing Trinity Logistics to offer its services to pick, pack and ship, as well as provide customer care for businesses that want to out-source their shipping. Like the church supply company started some 60 years ago by a Phoenix, Ariz., family, the logistics service has headquarters there and operations here with warehousing and Lewisburg's central location to 63 percent of America's population in two days.

"To be able to do all this," Terry Wallace, director of Lewisburg's industrial development office, says, "fiber optic lines will be very important."

Lowe said the Tennessee Valley Authority is helping Marshall County address that and AT&T spokesmen have told the city's representatives that the communications giant can lay fiber optic lines anywhere they're needed.

Wallace suggested the city IDB have a representative from AT&T at the board'/s meeting next month.

Meanwhile, the industrial developer is working toward clearing much of the 47 acres the city recently purchased to expand the business park.

"I hate to cut a tree, but it's got to go," Wallace said of a forest on city land so industrialists can see where they can build a factory.

Tribune staff writer Karen Hall contributed to this story.