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Editorial: State of the workforce, 2018

Heading into Labor Day 2018, the state of the workforce in Rowan County is improving. We’ve come a long way since the recession and would like to go further.

The county needs to grow and attract jobs with a higher rate of pay. County commissioners and others are working toward that goal, but the prize always seems to be just beyond Rowan’s reach.

Average wages reported by NCWorks confirm that Rowan County is just beyond one of the most prosperous areas of the state, a region where wages are well above average for North Carolina. The average annual pay in the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area is $66,716, while the state average is $53,144. Meanwhile, Rowan comes in at $44,304.

The county is closer to full employment than it was a decade ago, when the recession was just settling in. In July 2008, Rowan’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, with 5,061 counted as unemployed, according to the state. Many people here remember — and have been part of — double-digit unemployment, but that’s behind us. In July 2018, the county’s unemployment rate was 4 percent, with 2,724 counted as unemployed.

And wages are rising. According the U.S. Commerce Department, personal income in the county increased 2.1 percent in 2016 and was up 7.1 percent from 2014.

Word on the street is anyone who needs a job can find one if he or she is willing to work. Openings abound. Whether the available jobs are the positions people want is another matter. The most readily available jobs offer modest pay at best. According to NCWorks, the top-growing occupations in Rowan and their average yearly wages are:

• Food prep and service — $17,834

• Retail sales — $23,602

• Cashiers — $18,462

• Customer service reps — $31,303

• Wait staff — $18,162

The backbone of Rowan’s economy, however, is an industrial base that offers far better pay. The EDC says the top private sector employers are:

• Food Lion, 3,500

• Daimler Trucks, 1,500

• Novant Health Rowan Medical, 1,044

• Gildan, 706

We need more industries like them, and more skilled workers to help them grow.

A new I-85 interchange, spec buildings  and water/sewer services are among the tools commissioners are using to build a stronger economy. A lower crime rate and higher level of student achievement would go even further toward convincing prospects that Salisbury is the place to be. We’re working on that.

For now, Happy Labor Day tomorrow to the 64,000-plus employed Rowan residents who keep our local economy humming along. We’re glad you’re here.

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