By RICK NORTON
Some good news climbed to a rare spot among the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2017, when Bradley County’s unemployment rate plunged to a record low of 2.8 percent twice, in May and September.Actually, the …
Some good news climbed to a rare spot among the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2017, when Bradley County’s unemployment rate plunged to a record low of 2.8 percent twice, in May and September.
Actually, the figures came in at a tie. The local jobless mark had not seen a level this low in 19 years, dating back to December 1998.
Based on a survey of 2017’s most impactful news stories — good or bad — the editors and reporters of the Cleveland Daily Banner newsroom who spent the year covering these developments chose the near record-setting unemployment rate as No. 6 on the list.
Patrick Todd, statistical analyst supervisor for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, acknowledged the numbers pointed to a strengthening local economy — at least, in the employment sector — but he also advised that the fact the May and September numbers came in the same wasn’t an accident.
Year to year, the two months often run parallel to one another.
“Usually, the May and September rates are similar,” he said. In this case, they were the same, meaning that Bradley County’s employment fortunes tied records twice — not just once — within the same calendar year.
The September figure represented a significant drop because the August amount had stood at 3.5.
Although 2.8 stood as the three-time record — once in 1998 and twice in 2017 — technically, the news got even better in October when the state labor department reported the September revised rate had dropped to 2.7.
The number then rose slightly to 2.9 in October, because of a seasonal drop in tourism (recognized as leisure and hospitality on the state employment grid). As summer travel waned and families settled into a back-to-school routine, tourism lost 300 jobs.
In spite of increased hiring in professional and business services, along with spikes in manufacturing and retail trade, the October numbers still increased.
Traditionally, tourism-related jobs apply to recreation such as the whitewater rafting season, camping and hiking — all directly related to Polk County’s opportunities. But in Cleveland, tourism jobs are directly linked to lodging like hotels and motels, as well as restaurants and eateries, both big and small.
In September, Bradley County’s jobless mark compared favorably to both the state and nation. For the month, Tennessee’s jobless rate fell to 3 percent, down from 3.3. Nationally, the figure dipped to 4.2, down from 4.4.
In Southeast Tennessee, Bradley continued to lead its immediate neighbors with the lowest unemployment rate. This has been the trend for the past three years as Bradley’s mark has bettered its southwestern neighbor, Hamilton County, whose metropolitan size has normally spurred more job opportunities.
However, Bradley County is now considered an emerging market because of its growth, both in the manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors.
Although Bradley’s jobless numbers for 2017 have come in strong throughout the year, state officials believe it’s not just a local strength. At least for the past year, it has been statewide.
Burns Phillips, state Department of Labor and Workforce Development commissioner, pointed to the number of counties recording jobless rates of less than 5 percent in October.
According to state reports, 93 counties recorded unemployment marks under 5 percent, and the other two ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent.
“To have so many counties under 5 percent unemployment, as we head into the holiday season, is a good thing,” Phillips said. “It means more Tennesseans are able to provide for their families and that is the goal of Gov. (Bill) Haslam’s workforce initiatives.”
Haslam credited the good news to a state focus on creating new jobs.
“We have focused on bringing high-quality jobs to Tennessee and have attracted companies and jobs that provide strong wages that will evolve as the economy changes,” Haslam said.
He added, “We have focused on recruiting companies that will invest in Tennessee for the long term, and create lasting economic change in our communities, and our record low unemployment rate over the last five months reflects that.”
Going into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, it was expected that Bradley County’s jobless mark could dip even further as retailers beef up their sales floor staffs.
Traditionally in Bradley County, and across most of the state, the December unemployment rate is the lowest of the calendar year. Those figures won’t be available until January.
In January, the rates normally see a rise because temporary holiday jobs in retail trade are phased out.
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