Unemployment rate dips to 7.5
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Mar 29, 2013 | 1005 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Late-winter hiring in temporary services, private education and tourism overcame slight declines in manufacturing and retail trade to keep Bradley County’s unemployment rate headed south to 7.5 percent for the month of February.

The new rate is a one-tenth of 1 percent drop from January’s revised mark of 7.6.

Not only is the suddenly stable jobless figure a notch below both the national rate (7.7) and state figure (7.8), it also slides Bradley County into a two-way tie with Franklin County for the 17th lowest unemployment mark in Tennessee.

This time a year ago, the county’s jobless picture focused in at 7.9.

“Bradley County is looking relatively strong on the whole,” according to Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “[The area] is a little bit below the national and state rates, so that’s good.”

As was the case in January, the local jobless mark is the lowest in the immediate Southeast Tennessee region. Reporting a total labor force of 49,690, local February numbers showed 45,950 were on the job, leaving an unemployed balance of 3,740.

Traditionally, the lowest jobless mark in the state’s southeastern corner is found in Hamilton County thanks to the size and employer diversity of Chattanooga; however, Bradley County bested its larger neighbor in both January and February.

Hamilton County’s mark in February came in at 7.7 percent, which is down from the January revised rate of 8 percent.

Jobless marks among other Bradley County neighbors included Marion County, 9.5, down from 9.7 in January; McMinn, 9.4, down from 9.6; Meigs, 10.2, down from 10.6; Monroe, 10.9, down from 11.1; Polk, 9.3, down from 9.9; and Rhea, 11.3, down from 11.9 percent.

Statewide, February jobless rates fell in 87 counties. Unemployment rose in five counties: Claiborne, Sevier, Sullivan, Unicoi and Williamson. It remained unchanged in three: Franklin, Hamblen and Hawkins.

“It’s stable, pretty much what we expected for February,” Green said late Thursday of the Bradley County employment picture. “Usually, we don’t see much change from January to February.”

Of Bradley County’s uptick in hiring, temporary staffing services and tourism speak for themselves. The temp sector continues to fare well locally and the Leisure & Hospitality sector (tourism) is already showing signs of a mild increase as spring weather begins to lure travelers out of their hibernation and into the state’s mountainous region.

One of the surprises for increased hiring came in what Green called Education & Health Services which includes private education, as well as private nursing homes or hospitals.

“It wasn’t a significant increase, but it was the largest increase Bradley County had,” Green explained.

Coupled with stability in manufacturing and retail trade sectors (whose job declines were minimal), the hiring pickup is credited for the favorable jobs report.

Escaping February with stable employment and minimal layoffs — in spite of the recent announcement by Resolute Forest Products of a 150-worker cutback — should be considered a good sign for coming months with construction and manufacturing expected to rebound with improving weather and growing product demand, Green analyzed.

Of the recent Resolute announcement that a newsprint machine at the Calhoun plant is being idled indefinitely — resulting in the layoff — Green said its impact on Bradley and McMinn County jobless rates should be minimal because the job loss is being spread over several months.

“We can hope that going into March we will see [tourism] come up,” Green said. “Construction might start going back up ... [for now] it has been stable. We always want to see manufacturing improve.”

The latter stands to happen as Whirlpool Cleveland Division prepares to add 100 workers in April to a new 2nd Shift assembly line in the new plant on Benton Pike that will help meet heavy product demand while facilitating the manufacturer’s transition from the old King Edward Avenue site. The move has slowed in recent months due to increased customer demand for a wave of new premium cooking products, a few of which have already earned consumer awards for quality and innovation.

Increased hiring is also expected soon at Renfro, a Cleveland textile operation formerly known as Charleston Hosiery. A plant expansion, and more hiring, are also taking place at the M&M Mars Chocolate North America operation in Cleveland on Peerless Road.

“March is often kind of like February,” Green said. “We don’t look for a lot of fluctuation [in hiring]. Construction might turn around, depending on the weather and how well [they’ve been] able to work with the March rain and wind.”

In keeping with seasonal tradition, Green anticipates tourism will continue its hiring ascent and he expects retail trade to see some boosts. In the big picture, Bradley County’s long-term outlook also will be aided by the opening of the new Publix Supermarket later this year in Mouse Creek Crossing and LongHorn Steakhouse off Huff Parkway near the new Holiday Inn Express.

“Everything looks pretty good from here,” Green stressed. “Bradley County is pretty well balanced in the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors. It’s not too overloaded in any one area and that always helps during dips in the economy.”

He said Bradley County’s jobs diversity offers greater potential than communities that are too heavy on manufacturing or, in the other extreme, that have little or no manufacturing operations.

Statewide, the unemployment rate ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 49 counties. It was 10 percent or higher in 46 counties.

For February, Tennessee’s lowest jobless rates were found in Williamson County, 5.3 percent; Lincoln, 6.1; Rutherford, 6.2; Sumner and Davidson, 6.3; Knox and Moore, 6.4; Cheatham and Washington, 6.7; and Wilson, 6.8.

The state’s highest unemployment marks came in Scott County, 17.4 percent; Lauderdale, 13.8; Pickett, 13.1; Gibson, 13; Lawrence, 12.5; Cocke and Obion, 12.4; Carroll, 12.3; and Haywood and Sevier counties, 11.9.

“[Unemployment] did what it’s supposed to do in February,” Green said. “[It went down] and we expect to see it do the same in March.”