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County commissioners chairman sees silver lining in improved unemployment rate

SALISBURY — With Rowan County’s unemployment rate improving in October, Rowan County Board of Commissioners Chair Greg Edds said it’s a trend that will “continue to get better.”

After worsening slightly from 7.1% in August to 7.2% in September, the unemployment rate improved to 6.3% in October, according numbers released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce last week. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted, meaning that seasonal hiring patterns have not been removed from the data. But the improvement came even as there were several hundred more people considered in the labor force.

“It is going to come down and it’ll continue to come down,” Edds said. “We believe that. There’s a lot of available jobs out there and matching up employers and employees is something that everyone is working on.”

While almost every county in North Carolina has seen unemployment rates climb during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rowan County has experienced a greater increase than some others. The county’s 6.3% unemployment rate in October was 2.7% higher than October of 2019 and ranked 68th in the state, with 100 being the highest. North Carolina’s overall seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 6.3% for October was the lowest its been since the pandemic began.

In 2019, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Rowan County increased marginally from 3.5% in September to 3.6% in October.

Since February, Rowan County has seen the total number of jobs decrease by close to 4,000, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rowan’s high unemployment rate, which reached 9.4% in July, contributed significantly to the county dropping from Tier 2 to Tier 1 in the state’s 2021 economic health tier rankings that were released last week.

The county’s unemployment rate could continue to fall as local companies ramp up their operations to pre-COVID levels. Patti Misenheimer, the regional manager for Hire Dynamics employment agency, said her company is currently “swamped with jobs.”

“For us, the economy is just booming,” Misenheimer said.

Misenheimer said her staffing agency is continuing to add clients who are in search of dozens of employees as soon as possible. Misenheimer said the current demand for workers that her company is seeing isn’t just seasonal and that most jobs are temporary-to-hire.

That doesn’t mean Christmas won’t be busy for local companies.

“We are seeing hiring ramping up everywhere and clients that we have worked with for years and years and years that have closed for two weeks at Christmas are telling us that they’re only going to close for a few days,” Misenheimer said. “For me, (that) is extremely telling as far as the healthiness of the business.”

With so many positions currently open, Misenheimer said job seekers “can be picky” and can hold out for jobs with higher pay. She said employers are responding to that and are offering more money and better benefits to candidates, which is a positive to Edds.

“When you’ve got high demand for employees, the wages will continue to get better and that’s a good thing,” Edds said.

On the other side, job seekers being able to be selective can allow them to hold out for a better job, or even jump from job to job, Misenheimer said.

Those signs are positive for Rowan County’s employment future, but Misenheimer said it doesn’t necessarily indicate that the area’s unemployment rate will continue to decrease as it did from September to October.

“I think it’s hard to predict what we’re going to see without knowing A – what’s going to happen with COVID and the vaccine and B – what’s going to happen with any stimulus programs that are rolled out,” Misenheimer said.

In order to fill the job orders from companies that are currently stacking up, Misenheimer said they are offering “healthy” referral bonuses for job seekers who bring in others. Hire Dynamics could have even more jobs to fill next year, if Edds has his way. Edds said county leaders will be working with the Rowan Economic Development Commission to “make lemonade out of lemons” with the county’s new Tier 1 status, which gives it priority for job creating grants from the state.

“We’ve only got a year to take advantage of this,” Edds said. “We expect that we won’t be on this list anymore.”

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