Rate declines, but so do job numbers
The number of people employed in Union County fell at the end of November, but so did the unemployment rate.
According to data released Wednesday, Jan. 4 by the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, Union County’s unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent, down from 9 percent at the end of October.
The problem, according to University of North Carolina at Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton, is that the unemployment rate in Union is dropping as more people stop looking for work.
“People who went on unemployment in 2009 are now rolling out of eligibility,” Connaughton said. “That program is closed to them now. My guess is, now that they don’t have benefits, some people are just dropping out of the workforce, no longer looking for a job.”
The labor force for Union County, which includes the number of people employed and those currently on unemployment benefits looking for work, dropping to its lowest figure since September 2007. As of the end of November, 92,465 people were either employed in Union or looking for a job. The labor force hasn’t been that small since 2007, when it came in at 92,535.
“There’s just a lot of discouraged workers out there,” Connaughton said. “There’s nothing happening in Union County that hasn’t happened across the state and across the country.”
All total, since the end of October, 917 people lost their job in the county, but the unemployment rate dropped because 1,307 people dropped out of the labor force totally.
“Unemployment benefits were originally set to expire at the end of 26 weeks,” Connaughton said. “They’ve extended it to 52 weeks and now to 99 weeks. It used to be, after 26 weeks, come hell or high water, a person had to get off unemployment. Now for basically two years, they’re guaranteed benefits.”
Currently, Union County’s tax base is 84.9 percent residential and 15 percent commercial. Out of counties of similar size and population across the state, that ranks as the third highest amount of residential, next to Harnett’s 87.2 percent and Chatham’s 85.3 percent.
Last fall, the Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study to determine how to balance a good quality of life for Union with the constant growth. What the study found was that more residential buildings require more services.
In order to improve this situation, Union County needs to attract more business and industry, the study said. As of right now, the tax rate of Union County is 6 cents higher than the average county tax rate. Compared to other counties, only two comparable counties had higher. County commissioners promised to fix that situation in 2012, voting to guarantee a property tax cut.
To help, the study suggests that Union County focus on expanding through six specific industries. That includes advanced materials, aerospace, medical products, building products, e-commerce retail and a data center. Advanced materials was the field highlighted as the one with the most potential. By adding 100 workers in the field, Union would see an influx of $139 million.
In August, county commissioners asked the North Carolina School of Government to research the idea and give different options for Union to explore later this year.
Currently, Union County contracts with the Monroe based Partnership for Progress company to help stimulate economic development. That contract expires in July and with the company’s director, Maurice Ewing, stepping down, the board wanted to look at other ways to possibly spur on commercial growth.
Members of the North Carolina School of Government will look at information about the area, research the various communities and determine what type of structure would work best for Union moving forward. That could mean continuing the contract with Partnership for Progress, finding another group to partner with or creating the county’s own economic development department.