A recent fall in Lincoln Countyâ€™s unemployment rate may be a sign that the countyâ€™s job market is improving.
Judi Morton, manager at Lincoln Countyâ€™s Employment Security Commission, said the past year has been difficult. â€œBut it looks like things are beginning to improve,â€ she said.
The county unemployment rate for March was 6.1 percent, the lowest rate the county has seen in three years, since 5.8 percent in April 2001.
The county unemployment rate average had nearly doubled in 2001, when July had the highest rate at 10.2 percent.
That year was remembered by some in Lincoln County as the areaâ€™s recent worst economically, following slow business and hundreds of layoffs in the manufacturing industry. The state economy wasnâ€™t doing much better, as lawmakers mulled over cutting state positions and N.C. furniture and textile makers felt forced to lay off thousands.
Since that time three years ago, the installation of new jobs in Lincoln County from incoming large employers such as Cataler Inc. of Japan, RSI Home Products Inc., and Robb & Stucky Ltd. seems to have helped the area in its recovery. Rapid growth of business and construction in east Lincoln along N.C. 16 has also had an effect on the countyâ€™s job market.
Barry Matherly, executive director of the Lincoln Economic Development Association, says the unemployment rate fall is just one of the signs that the economy is improving. The creation of manufacturing jobs in the county, which provide higher wages than service jobs, bring new money into the community and help to create further jobs, is the other.
Recent additions and expansions are now being watched for assistance in the face of a slightly improving economic slump. Announcements of closings of major Lincoln County manufacturers in the past year have included Haworth Inc. (161 jobs), General Shoelace Co. (30 jobs) and Kawai America (30 jobs), a Japanese piano maker planning to leave the county in early 2005.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t a good year, and it wasnâ€™t a bad year for the county,â€ says Matherly. â€œThe secret was we were very fortunate that we did not lose a lot of industry and at the same time we added several companies.â€
CX Systems, an industrial machine manufacturer, is the most recent company to announce a move to Lincoln County.
More good news has come since last year from major manufacturers such as The Timken Company and McMurray Fabrics, each expanding with 20 new jobs, RSI, expanding with 50 and newcomer LeeBoy, which added 60 new jobs with its move from South Dakota to east Lincoln. The addition of tortilla chip maker R.W. Garcia to the countyâ€™s ever-expanding industrial park is expected to eventually bring in 75 more jobs.
According to LEDA, 51 percent of Lincoln County residents worked outside of the county in 2003.
The state unemployment rate for March 2004 was 5.2 percent. Statewide unemployment figures for March mark the first time since data collection began in 1994 that unemployment rates in all 100 N.C. counties have fallen.
The U.S. unemployment rate rose slightly in March from 5.6 to 5.7 percent.by Josh Davis