Future looking brighter, but… county’s unemployment remains high

Published 3:19 pm Friday, August 21, 2015

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By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

While preliminary July 2015 unemployment numbers released Friday show an improvement in 66 of 67 Alabama counties from revised 2014 numbers, including Lowndes, those same numbers from the Alabama Department of Labor show Lowndes had the third highest unemployment rate in the state in July.
However, both Lowndes County Commission Chairman Robert Harris, who serves as vice chairman of the Lowndes County Economic Development Commission, and Thomas Ellis, who serves as chairman of the LCEDC, expect those numbers to improve with the anticipated opening of the Chowel plant in Fort Deposit.
Alabama Department of Labor Commissioner Fitzgerald Washington said, “Over the year, 66 counties experienced a drop in their unemployment rate, and the 67th county saw no change.” Choctaw County was the only county that did not see a drop in its rate, which remained unchanged, according to a report from the Office of the Governor.
While Lowndes County saw an improvement from 13.7 percent in revised July 2014 numbers to 13.2 percent in preliminary July 2015 numbers, the county actually saw a .5 percent increase in unemployment from revised June 2015 unemployment numbers of 12.7 percent.
A map of the state prepared by the Alabama Department of Labor for preliminary July 2015 numbers show Wilcox County was the highest at 16.2 percent, Clarke County was the second highest at 13.5 percent, and Lowndes County was third highest at 13.2 percent.
Greene County was fourth highest at 11.8 percent with Dallas County listed as fifth and Perry County listed sixth with an unemployment rate at 11.6 percent.
Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are: Shelby County at 4.6 percent, Elmore and Baldwin Counties at 5.6 percent, and Cullman and St. Clair Counties at 5.7 percent.
Additionally, according to the Alabama Department of Labor, Lowndes County had the second highest average unemployment rate in 2014 at 12.9 percent behind Wilcox County at 17.4 percent.
Governor Robert Bentley said Friday that Alabamans preliminary, seasonally adjusted July unemployment rate is 6.2 percent. “We continue to show strong yearly growth in our jobs numbers as reported by Alabama employers,” Bentley said. “Employment is up by more than 30,000, and is at its highest point for the same time period since 2008. This is a strong indicator that employers are continuing to hire, and we are getting closer and closer to the two million mark, numbers that reflect pre-recession employment in Alabama.”
Harris said 200 jobs to be located at the Chowel plant in Fort Deposit should cause unemployment numbers in the county to “drop greatly once those people start working.”
In addition, Harris said, the Lowndes County Board of Education is teaching soft skills to residents, as well as to high school students so that they can be job ready.
“The Chowel operation will have a significant impact on our unemployment rate here in Fort Deposit and Lowndes County,” said Ellis. “The expected employment level is 200 people working within two years. The first hiring phase should be 100 jobs with the other to follow. In a rural county like ours this will be a positive influence on our local business and economy.”

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