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County's jobless rate offers mixed messages [Opelika-Auburn News, Ala. :: ]
[January 24, 2014]

County's jobless rate offers mixed messages [Opelika-Auburn News, Ala. :: ]

(Opelika-Auburn News (AL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 25--The Alabama Department of Labor released December unemployment rates Friday, and Lee County boasts one of the lowest rates at 4.7 percent.

"With the tremendous workforce, innovative local leadership, and incredible business community in Lee County, it's no surprise we have the second lowest unemployment rate in the entire state," Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mike Hubbard released in a statement. "I'm proud to represent the people of Auburn and Opelika and will continue to work hard to ensure we lead the way." But ADOL communications director Tara Hutchinson said Lee County's low December 2013 numbers might be deceiving.

"(Lee County's) rate actually increased by two tenths of a percent," Hutchinson said.

While the county's unemployment rate dropped a full percentage point from 5.7 percent in December 2012 to 4.7 percent in December 2013, it increased from November's 4.5 percent.

Hutchinson said Lee County's labor force decreased by 1,135 workers from November to December 2013, while the number of working people decreased by 1,263 individuals. In the same time frame, the number of unemployed people increased from 3,096 to 3,224 people.

"The numbers aren't what you would usually want it to be," Hutchinson said. "But one month doesn't make a trend." Hutchinson added most counties stayed the same or experienced a slight increase, similar to Lee County.

Overall, the number of unemployed people declined during 2013, thanks in part to new job creation in Lee County.

Opelika Economic Development Director Lori Huguley said the city announced expansions of four existing companies in 2013, which created 188 new jobs and represented $64.6 million in additional capital investment.

Opelika does not track retail or commercial jobs created, but "it has been a good year for Opelika," Hughley wrote in an email.

"...we have hopes for a bright 2014 with the pending opening of the new Carmike movie theater and new restaurants in and around Tiger Town," she added. "Downtown Opelika also grew in 2013 with the opening of new shops and restaurants." Cary Cox, director of workforce development for Auburn, said that city also witnessed substantial job creation last year.

"For 2013, we look at a net of about 425 manufacturing jobs and 75 non-manufacturing jobs," he said, adding the city does not keep track of retail or fast food jobs. "We've got a big variety that covers aviation, ... medical products, ... woodworking jobs." Cox said those numbers are similar to what Auburn experienced over the past few years, which has put the city above pre-recession employment levels.

"I would say that's pretty much typical," he said. "The quality of jobs, I think, was exceptional this year." Shelby County boasts the lowest December 2013 unemployment rate at 3.8 percent, with 3,851 people unemployed. Wilcox County, a much smaller county, has the highest rate at 14.2 percent, with 417 unemployed.

Statewide, the December 2013 unemployment dropped to 6.1 percent, down from November's rate of 6.2 percent and December 2012's rate of 6.8 percent.

The last time Alabama's unemployment rate was below 6.1 percent was October 2008, when it was 5.9 percent.

"Alabama is continuing to move forward as shown today by a five-year low in the state's unemployment rate," Hubbard said. "The people of Alabama elected a pro-business, pro-private sector leadership and our focus over the past three years has been on creating new jobs and growing new and existing industries in the state." ___ (c)2014 the Opelika-Auburn News (Opelika, Ala.) Visit the Opelika-Auburn News (Opelika, Ala.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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