Caldwell County unemployment lowest since 2008

Aug. 29, 2013 @ 08:42 AM

For the first time in nearly five years, Caldwell County’s unemployment rate has dropped below 10 percent.

The rate in July was 9.9 percent, down from 10.3 in June, according to figures released Wednesday by the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division. The last time the rate was under 10 percent was October 2008, when it was 8.8 percent.

Breaking the 10 percent barrier is not just an important psychological milestone, said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.

“This number is both psychological and meaningful,” she said. “There was growth in every single category.”

Driving the rate down were increases in both the overall labor force, up by about 300, and the total number of people employed, up by about 400.

July also was second month during which Caldwell’s unemployment rate was better than the rates in neighboring Catawba and Burke counties. Catawba’s was 10. 3 percent, down from 10.8, and Burke’s was 10.2, down from 10.4. The overall unemployment rate in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton region was 10 percent in July.

Murray said she is optimistic that the local unemployment rate will continue to decline because there already are several ribbon cuttings and plant openings scheduled in the coming weeks, including Carolina Prime Pet, Randall Miller Co. and Bakers Waste Equipment. In addition, the EDC hopes to make some announcements of more companies coming to the area soon.

“We feel like we’ve got a pretty consistent pipeline coming,” she said.

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate remains above the state average of 9.1 percent, but it has been steadily moving out of the highest rates among the state’s 100 counties -- as recently as February it had the 30th-highest rate. Caldwell had the 39th-highest rate in June and 41st in July, and it is less than half of a percentage point higher than the median, between the 50th rate and the 51st, among the state’s counties.

The unemployment rate is just one factor the state uses to designate its 40 “Tier One,” or economically distressed, counties eligible for higher levels of economic assistance.

Over the past year, Caldwell County has seen one of the greatest declines in the state in its unemployment rate. In July 2012, the rate was 11.5 percent. The decline of 1.6 percentage points is among the 11 biggest during the year. During that same period, Catawba County’s rate dropped 1.3 points and Burke’s dropped 0.9 point.

Caldwell County’s rate shot from 6.2 percent in April 2008, before the effects of the recession took hold, to 14.6 in February 2009. It peaked at 17.1 percent in February 2010 but has seen steady drops since then, showing year-over-year improvement in almost every month.