Jobless rate rises across area, state


Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rocky Mount again has the highest jobless rate among North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas, while among the state’s 100 counties, Edgecombe County has the fourth-highest jobless rate and Nash County has the 18th highest jobless rate.

The local state Commerce Department data, which is for May, generally reflects an increase in the jobless rate in North Carolina.

Statewide, the jobless rate for May was 4 percent, up four-tenths of a percent compared to April.

The jobless rate for May in the Rocky Mount metro area was 5.5 percent, up five-tenths of a percent compared to April.

The jobless rate for May in Edgecombe County was 6.1 percent, up four-tenths of a percent compared to April. The jobless rate for May in Nash County was 5.2 percent, up six-tenths of a percent compared to April.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said Rocky Mount has been challenged for decades due to having had a tobacco- and, in part, textile-based economy.

“Of course, those industries have downsized considerably,” Walden said. “And Rocky Mount has never had the kind of skilled labor force — I’d call it an advanced skilled labor force — that our metros like Raleigh and Charlotte have had.”

Walden also noted Rocky Mount was affected during the previous decade by the then-RBC Centura Bank relocating its principal offices from the city to Raleigh.

At the same time, Walden cited positives such as the Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development off Falls Road and the future CSX intermodal facility across U.S. 301 from N.C. Wesleyan College.

“Your leadership is very motivated to try to move the needle, but it’s hard to move the needle rapidly,” he said.

He said he believes that, in the long-term, a strategy that medium-sized North Carolina municipalities like Rocky Mount could play as a winning hand in recruiting is being free of the high costs of housing and traffic congestion in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham areas.

“You can make an argument that says that, eventually, there’s going to be people who say, ‘I don’t want to live in Raleigh. I don’t want to live in Charlotte. It’s too darn expensive. And you sit in traffic all the time,’” he said.

At the same time, he said a person living in Rocky Mount still can have access to the Raleigh-Durham area.

Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Farris remains confident that the Rocky Mount metro area in the future no longer will be No. 1 in jobless rates.

“There’s no doubt when you have 3,500 jobs in the pipeline over about an 18-month period, the impact is going to be very positive,” he said.

Farris was referring to the commitments of Chinese-based Triangle Tire and New York-based Corning to open facilities in Edgecombe County, as well as by other businesses and industries to expand in the Rocky Mount area.

Farris also said he believes that having more people employed will bring increases in household incomes.

“That’s a winning combination, in our book,” he said.

Tarboro Town Councilman Garland Shepheard said he believes Edgecombe County’s jobless rate in the future will be determined with the openings of the Triangle Tire and Corning facilities.

Shepheard made clear he believes if one subsequently sees Edgecombe County’s jobless rate still is high, “that pretty much tells you that the temperature is still the same.”

“If a person has got a fever and you check their temperature — and every time you check it, they’ve got a fever, they’ve got something wrong with ’em that needs to be fixed,” Shepheard said.

Statewide, Hyde County posted North Carolina’s highest jobless rate at 6.8 percent.

As has been a constant pattern, Buncombe County, which is the home of a revitalized downtown Asheville, posted North Carolina’s lowest jobless rate at 3.1 percent.

Walden emphasized that data shows North Carolina has faced an additional continuing challenge of dealing with the aftermath of the 2018 hurricanes.

“Jobless claims have ticked up and we haven’t really recovered to where we were prior to the hurricanes,” he said.

Overall, Walden said he believes North Carolina’s economy, like the nation’s economy, will continue to grow this year.

“And I’m actually going to go out on a limb and say as far as I can tell, we’ll grow in 2020,” Walden said. “The growth rate, however, is going to be slower. So we are in a slower growth period, but as long as we’re growing that means no recession.”