Jobless rate here now 20.3%

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marshall County's unemployment rate is now the highest in Tennessee and while local leaders want that compared to other counties where more people are unemployed, they're been planning a jobs program announcement.

"We met with the deputy governor several months ago," Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, said Monday about a meeting with John Morgan last fall in conjunction with the state's Three-Star Program.

"This stems from that," Wiles said Monday as he reacted to the January unemployment statistics and deferred to County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett to make a more complete statement.

"It's a jobs program," the county mayor said Monday afternoon. "There are some kinks to be worked out in the program," Liggett said, explaining an announcement is anticipated from the state Friday or next week.

"I think it will be a combination" of jobs paid by businesses and employment made possible because of government decisions.

Liggett confirmed Wiles' observation that this development is in connection with discussions at Morgan's office where county leaders said they'd want help if the unemployment rate here became the worst in the state.

"That's got a lot to do with it and this is something that we've been working on if it (the unemployment rate) went to that," Liggett said.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced that Marshall County's unemployment rate is 20.3 percent, up from 18.7 in December. The county was tied for the highest unemployment rate in December with Lauderdale County.

Out of a labor force of 12,410, there were some 9,900 people working and 2,510 unemployed, according to labor force estimates issued by the state Labor Department on Thursday.

Those numbers are included in an analysis of Micropolitan Statistical Areas. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a micro area as a largely rural economy that includes a city of at least 10,000 people but fewer than 50,000 and covers at least one county.

In that context, Lewisburg was identified as one of the top micropolitan areas of 2008 - 65th among 700 - according to Site Selection magazine and the Conway Data New Plant Database service used by the magazine. Greg Lowe, Lewisburg's industrial development assistant, reported that ranking, explaining it indicates this community is "business friendly." New businesses in Lewisburg's Business Park were noted by Lowe and the magazine.

Of 3,141 counties in the nation, 694 are classified as micro areas and account for nearly 10 percent of America's population.

But as for the 20.3 percent unemployment rate, Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods said, "That's a terrible statistic for our county. I know how hard everybody is working to do something about it, but sometimes things don't pan out like you want them to."

Lewisburg Industrial Development Director Terry Wallace said, "It's not just us. All 95 counties (unemployment rates) have gone up."

Wiles provided a chart of nearby counties' unemployment rates and the actual number of people living in those counties who do not have a job.

His list includes Lincoln County. Again, it has the lowest unemployment rate in the state. The 8.3 percent of Lincoln County's workforce who are without jobs (1,410 people) is a low statistic because of a booming economy in Huntsville with government expansion at Redstone Arsenal, Wiles agreed.

But like other Tennessee counties, its unemployment rate increased from 7.8 to 8.3 at least in part because of jobs in Marshall County, Wiles said. "A lot of those unemployed in Lincoln County were working here."

Marshall County's jobless rate is followed by Henderson County at 19.9 percent, up from 18.5 percent in December, the state reported.

"Terry and the industrial board continue to work on these things," Wiles said. "It affects not only us, but counties around us, because people come here to work, and that affects our retail as far as restaurants and gas and other things."

As for reviving the local economy, he said, "We know it's not going to be a quick process. It's going to be a step-by-step process."