“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the unemployment rate in Bradley County level out and go down a little bit in the next few months, maybe even as early as March or April,” according to Larry Green, analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Green banks his forecast on expected recoveries in construction and perhaps retail trade. A February increase in leisure and hospitality — a category related to tourism — should rebound even more as the Polk County rafting season on the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers picks up. Polk County tourism impacts Cleveland because many tourists book their lodging here in local hotels and motels, and patronize a variety of Cleveland restaurants.
Construction is traditionally a seasonal industry — up in the spring, summer and fall, and down in winter — and with the solid number of building permits being reported for the local area, it should be just a matter of time before the numbers reflect the warm-weather shift, Green explained.
Although the Bradley County jobless rate increased by one-tenth of one percent, Green said it is such a small change that it is not indicative of any trends or major movement.
“One-tenth of a percent doesn’t mean anything because it is such a small decline,” the analyst noted. “Bradley County still looks really good compared to some surrounding counties.”
He added, “Bradley County is doing all right because of the (employment) balance. It is not so heavily dependent on manufacturing as many counties are.”
For the month, the Tennessee unemployment rate was 8 percent. Nationally, it was 8.3.
In Bradley County, the slight increase in jobless rate might also have been impacted by the influx of laid-off workers following the closures of two restaurants (Ryan’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill), one grocery (the Food Lion on APD 40) and most recently Sears, a Bradley Square Mall retailer still in the process of liquidating its inventory for eventual closure.
Another buffet eatery is already advertising that it will soon occupy the former Ryan’s location.
Bradley County’s 8.3 percent jobless rate places it as the 22nd lowest among Tennessee’s 95 counties. According to February figures, the local mark is based on a total labor force of 46,270. Of this number, 42,430 reported having jobs, leaving an unemployed balance of 3,830.
The rate compares favorably to a year ago. In February 2011, Bradley County’s jobless rate was 9.6 percent.
Surrounding counties continue to see higher jobless rates although most dropped from January to February. Some include McMinn County, 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 in January; Meigs County, 10.5 percent, down from 11.3; Monroe County, 11.4, down from 12; Polk County, 12, down from 13.1; and Rhea County, 10.7, down from 11.5.
Southwestern neighbor Hamilton County saw a 7.7 percent mark, down from 7.9.
Statewide, the unemployment rate decreased in 75 counties in February, increased in 10 and remained the same in 10. The jobless mark ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 47 counties and was 10 percent or higher in 48 counties. No counties recorded jobless rates of less than 5 percent or higher than 20 percent.
The lowest unemployment rates across Tennessee were found in Williamson County, 5.6 percent; Knox, 6.1; Lincoln, 6.5; Loudon, 6.7; Washington, 6.9; Davidson and Wilson, 7; Rutherford, 7.1; Robertson, 7.4; and Sumner, 7.5.
The highest unemployment rates across Tennessee were found in Scott County, 17.6 percent; Pickett, 15.9; Obion, 15.4; Cocke, 13.4; Lauderdale, 13; Perry, 12.9; Marshall, 12.7; Haywood and Sevier, 12.4; and Weakley, 12.1.
“If you look at the broader picture, every time you pick up the newspaper, somebody is expanding ... hiring more people,” Green said. “What I really love to see is when manufacturing is hiring people.”
That’s because in general manufacturing jobs pay better than those in nonmanufacturing, he cited. This means increased purchasing power for workers when manufacturers hire.
“It’s certainly not true everywhere, but the more purchasing power you have the more people are going to buy goods and services,” Green said. “You’ll have a snowball effect.”
The snowball is that increased purchasing power means greater spending which is good for the local economy’s recovery from the ongoing recession whose origin is traced back to late 2007.
Of Bradley County’s future, Green is optimistic.
“I don’t see anything negative on the horizon ... unless there’s somebody out there who is going to shut down or lay off that we don’t know about,” Green said.
Increased hiring in the construction industry, as well as expected surges in retail trade, manufacturing and tourism should combine for an improved outlook locally over the next few months, he noted.