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Area jobless rate drops again

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Rocky Mount again has the highest jobless rate of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas, but local leaders remain optimistic such a status is going to become history.

“We’re ready to pass that baton on to someone else,” Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris said.

Farris said he believes the unemployment numbers for the Rocky Mount area are going to look vastly different in approximately a year and a half, given approximately 3,500 potential jobs in the economic development pipeline in the Twin Counties.

Farris cited the commitments of Chinese-based Triangle Tire and New York-based Corning to build facilities in Edgecombe County, as well as Florida-based CSX's commitment to build an intermodal facility across U.S. 301 from N.C. Wesleyan College.

And Farris cited the Council of State approving the shifting of the state Division of Motor Vehicles’ headquarters, effective next year, from Raleigh to the former Hardee’s Food Systems headquarters off U.S. 64.

The latest state Commerce Department statistics, which are for April, show the unemployment rates decreased in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties and all 15 of North Carolina’s metro areas.

Statewide, the unemployment rate for April is 3.6 percent, down from 4.1 percent in March and 4.2 percent in February.

And statewide, the pattern remains consistent, with counties in the western and Raleigh-Durham areas posting the lowest jobless rates and counties in the area of or east of Interstate 95 posting the highest jobless rates.

Buncombe County, home of a revitalized downtown Asheville, posted North Carolina’s lowest jobless rate, at 2.7 percent. Hyde County posted North Carolina’s highest jobless rate, at 8.1 percent.

In the Rocky Mount metro area, the unemployment rate for April is 4.9 percent, down from 5.3 percent in March and 5.5 percent in February.

Edgecombe County posted North Carolina’s fourth highest jobless rate for April, at 5.7 percent.

Although Edgecombe County is in the top five for high jobless rates, that 5.7 percent rate is a decrease compared to 6 percent in March and 6.2 percent in February.

Nash County posted the state’s 22nd highest jobless rate for April, at 4.6 percent. That 4.6 percent rate is a decrease compared to 5 percent in March and 5.1 percent in February.

Farris said he believes the Rocky Mount area “took it on the chin” with the North American Free Trade Agreement, Hurricane Floyd and the loss of the Hardee’s headquarters.

“It has really taken us a while to recover because as we lost that, as a country, we went into the Great Recession,” Farris said.

“So, it has taken longer than we would like to have taken, but we’re getting there,” he said of an economic recovery in the Twin Counties. “We’re getting there.”

Carolinas Gateway Partnership President and CEO Norris Tolson said he believes with the economic development, people are going to start seeing the Rocky Mount area no longer No. 1 on the jobless list,

"No question in my mind about that," Tolson said. “We’re getting ready to move into the first phases of our RAMP East recruiting and training effort.” 

RAMP East is the multi-county marketing and recruiting initiative to help get residents into training situations to secure good-paying jobs.

Tolson also noted pilot programs are soon going to be launched at Edgecombe Community College and at Beaufort Community College.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in the program because we’re now moving into the communication phase of getting the message out that this program is going to be available and that people can sign up for it,” he said.

Rocky Mount Downtown Merchants Association President Tarrick Pittman said his focus is always on small businesses.

Pittman said he believes what would help tremendously is if some of the areas of Edgecombe County can have a focus on teaching, training and developing people with the desire to become entrepreneurs.

Pittman said they can be put into positions to open small businesses, which in turn tend to hire local residents.

He said an opportunity such as Triangle Tire, Corning and CSX committing to the Twin Counties only comes along every 10-20 years.

“So in the meantime, mom-and-pop businesses are usually the ones that generally support employment within the community,” he said. “And so I think that a focus on (small businesses) will allow you long-term sustainability within the community.”

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