Region's jobless rate rises to 11 percent

n The recession spills over into Northeast Mississippi as more than 4,000 more are unemployed.
By Dennis Seid
Daily Journal
Thirteen of the 16 counties in Northeast Mississippi posted double-digit unemployment rates in January as the recession cut deeper into workers’ ranks.
The region had more than 6,000 fewer workers in January than a month earlier. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed also grew by nearly 4,000.
That combination pushed the jobless rate in Northeast Mississippi to 11 percent, up from 9 percent in December.
In January 2008, the region’s jobless rate was 7.3 percent.
“I think the increase is partly because of how the region is tied together economically,” said Stephen Surles, executive director of the Union County Development Association.
In Union County, the unemployment rate jumped from 8.6 percent to 10.1 percent. It is the first time in nearly 13 years that the county rate has reached more than 10 percent.
“We’re driven in part by what’s going on in other counties,” he said.
And the counties immediately surrounding Union also posted higher rates. Pontotoc stood at 10.3 percent, Lee at 9.7, Prentiss at 12.4, Tippah at 14.8, Benton at 15.2, Marshall at 11.3 and Lafayette at 6.7.
Tippah County Development Foundation President Duane Bullard said Tippah is still recovering from the shutdown of furniture manufactuer BenchCraft, whose final 800 workers were let go in the fall. At its peak, the company employed some 2,200 workers.
“We’re still having to work through that,” he said. “We’ve had some new additions with 20 here, 30 there, but it’s difficult to replace that many jobs.”
The statewide unemployment rate was 9 percent in January, up from December’s 7.6 rate. The national rate in January was 8.5 percent.
Even in Lafayette County, which traditionally has one of the lowest rates in the state, unemployment reached 6.7 percent, matching the July 2008 figure.
“We’re not recession-proof, but we’ve usually fared pretty well because of the economy we have here,” said Max Hipp, CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. “But we’ve seen some cutbacks in some areas. People are rolling back production to keep up with the level of purchasing that’s declining nationwide.”
Alcorn County’s January jobless rate reached 11.1 percent, the highest in 12 years.
Gary Chandler, executive director of The Alliance, the development agency for Corinth and Alcorn County, said the increase was the result of layoffs from several companies in the area.
“While it is a tough climate here, as it is in most places across the state and country, one of our newer manufacturers in Alcorn County set a production record in January for their facility here,” he added.
And Oxford’s Hipp said Winchester recently added workers and is looking to add more.
Other development leaders in the region say they’re also optimistic about the future.
The higher jobless rates now “are just part of the economy right now, and it’s tough times,” said Tony Green, president of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce. “But there is some hope.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid