Jackson County experiences highest unemployment surge

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – The unemployment rate jumped in Jackson County from 9.1% in October to 9.8% in November, which is the largest spike in the Region 8 viewing area. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment rose in 3/5 of the counties in northeast Arkansas. Only four counties, Lawrence, Poinsett, Mississippi and Woodruff Counties, had reported lower unemployment rates.

"It's hit the nation, you know, the nation is at 10% and we're slightly below the national average, so the recession has hit a lot of people and made people struggle," said Jon Chadwell, Executive Director of the Newport Economic Development Commission.

Chadwell told Region 8 News Tuesday several companies in Newport and Jackson County are rebounding from a difficult 2009.

"We've not had a single plant closure in 2009. With that said, a lot of our plants have laid off. Many of them have hired back. We have a couple that have not made it back to full strength yet," said Chadwell.

Chadwell said the unemployment rate during the winter months are usually always higher than the warmer part of the year. He said this year was especially difficult for agriculture.

"With all of the water and the rain that we've had, there are a lot of fields that didn't get harvested so agricultural needs were not as much," said Chadwell.

There are roughly 18,000 people living in Jackson County. According to Chadwell, it has a workforce of 8,000. 800 people are out of work.

"We're doing what we can to make this a better place to live," said Chadwell.

Chadwell said the Newport Economic Development Commission has been working to increase the number of jobs in Jackson County.

One idea involved remodeling exteriors to buildings owned by small businesses.

"One of the things that we are working on and we actually started last year was to help our small businesses. Obviously when you're in a recession, it not only impacts your big manufacturers, it impacts your small businesses," said Chadwell.

The program, named ReNewport, offers small businesses a 50/50 matching grant to improve the facade of small business exteriors. There is $25,000 budgeted for 2010.

"If an existing industry is going to expand and create jobs or if a new industry is coming in, we give them an incentive per job based on the jobs that they promise to create as a forgivable loan," said Chadwell.

Jackson County uses a half-cent sales tax to raise money for economic development. The county raised $600,000 in 2009. Over the last two years, the county increased the economic development budget 12%.

"We've created a pool of money where we will do training grants and any manufacturer that would like to create or improve the skill of their workforce," said Chadwell.

Chadwell said Jackson County has also been hurt by job losses in neighboring counties.

"Agriculture and manufacturing are both fairly close as our largest employer. Agriculture still outranks manufacturing slightly but manufacturing is one of our largest. We have a little over 20 industries ranging from 5 employees all the way up to 300 employees," said Chadwell. "We also have the diverse base of manufacturers. We've got some that are tied to transportation and railroad and metal."

"I think with some of the things we see happening this year, that by the end of this year, by this time next year, we'll be close to where we were a year ago," said Chadwell.

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