While Calhoun County’s unemployment rate dropped from the previous month, experts attribute much of the change to statistical anomalies and parts of the labor force no longer being counted in the survey. Still, state and local officials say they are working on a strategic plan with industry and education to encourage economic growth.
According to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, Calhoun County’s unemployment rate dropped slightly to 8.9 percent in August from 9.4 percent in July. The July numbers were also relatively flat, with little change from the 9.2 percent unemployment rate in June.
Meanwhile, the state average unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in August, a slight increase from 8.3 percent in July.
“It mainly looks to me like it’s the same old, same old,” said James Cover, professor of economics at the University of Alabama.
Cover said such small changes in the unemployment rate are due partly to mathematical variations in how the job statistics are calculated. Part of the rate changes are also due to people dropping from the workforce and not being counted in the statistics. During the previous summer months, the workforce grew slightly in the area as teachers and students began looking for part-time jobs. With school starting up again in August, however, those potential workers soon disappeared from the workforce.
The state has had lackluster employment numbers so far this year. However, efforts are under way to improve the situation, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, which is tasked with spearheading economic development in the state. Canfield was the guest speaker Friday during the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Salute to Industry event.
During the event, local business professionals had the chance to meet each other and take virtual tours of several area companies, including Honda Manufacturing of Alabama.
“Our goal is to secure Alabama … to secure our future,” Canfield said.
Canfield said that through the state’s strategic economic development plan created last year called Accelerate Alabama, efforts are being made to help existing industry grow while encouraging new companies to locate in the state. He said 300 projects that are part of the plan are expected to generate more than 17,000 jobs.
Canfield added that the plan partners economic developers and industry with Alabama educators as another way to lure business to the state.
“If you ask Honda or any company today employing a worker that requires a skill … there are challenges today across America in finding a qualified worker,” Canfield said.
Tim Green, dean of technical programs at Gadsden State Community College, which has campuses in Anniston, said the college is working closely with industry this year to better train its students and possibly find them jobs. He said that through these cooperative efforts, students get real-world experience by doing some part-time work at area industries.
“We teach skills that the students need to be successful, but walking on a plant floor and seeing a 60-ton stamping machine, there’s no substitute for that,” Green said.
Green said several industries have hired Gadsden State’s students after they completed the program.
“I think the economic outlook is very optimistic and I think the employment of our graduates is very promising,” he said.
At least one local industry, FabArc Steel Supply in Oxford, is looking for workers. Jimmy Potter, a sales representative for FabArc, spoke about his company at the chamber event Friday.
“We’re hiring welders right now,” Potter said after the event.
FabArc, which specializes in structural steel fabrication and provides steel packages to auto manufacturers, medical office building manufacturers and others, has seen an improvement in business during the past year, according to Potter. He noted that FabArc recently completed an expansion that resulted in the creation of about 23 jobs.
“Honda, Mercedes, they’re all expanding,” Potter said of the state’s auto industry. “That’s all the people we’ve done business with, so we need to keep up.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.