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Local jobless rate drops to lowest since recession began

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The local unemployment rate last year fell to its lowest rate since before the economic downturn began, thanks to expansions and added hiring by local companies.

The average unemployment rate in the county fell to 7 percent in 2012, more than a point down from highs in 2009 and 2010, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. That rate is down from 7.7 percent in 2011 and the lowest since 2008, before unemployment rates increased due to the recession.

New businesses located in Johnson County and local companies expanded, helping more workers find jobs last year.

But some factors, such as national health care reform and lawmakers’ financial decisions, could slow growth this year, an Indiana University researcher said.

Statewide, the unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in December, up from November. But the average rate for the year was 8.2 percent, down from 9 percent in 2011.

In Johnson County, the unemployment rate has fallen since hitting a high of 9.6 percent in March 2010. During 2012, the rate ranged from a high of 7.9 percent in January to a low of 6.2 percent in September. The December rate was 7 percent.

Local companies continued to grow in 2012, and that helped put people back to work, Johnson County Development Corp. president and chief executive officer Cheryl Morphew said.

A survey of workers in the area during the summer showed about half of the people seeking jobs in manufacturing — a significant local employment sector — were able to find work, Morphew said.

Indiana led the nation in manufacturing job growth in 2012, according to a report from the state workforce department. Indiana was ninth overall for total job creation, adding 53,900 positions in 2012.

Local job announcements last year included Nachi Technology in Greenwood, $11 million expansion and adding eight positions; One Click Ventures in Greenwood, announcing 109 new jobs during five years; and Endress+Hauser in Greenwood, more than doubling its facility’s size and creating at least 50 jobs by the end of 2012 and hundreds more by 2017.

Also in 2012, Direct Shot Distributing moved into the building formerly owned by Best Buy as a distribution center, which laid off 223 people when it closed; and M.A. Metal Co. in Edinburgh added a new production line, Morphew said.

“Our employers have been hiring this year, and folks have seen signs from some of our staffing agencies,” she said.

Late last year, Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Climate Control announced a $12 million expansion that will bring at least 73 new positions to its Franklin plant.

Interest from international companies like Mitsubishi looking to locate in the county also was up toward the end of the year. About 40 percent of the companies that contacted her were from overseas and looking at Johnson County for the first time, Morphew said.

Already this year, she has heard from four new companies looking to locate in the county, which she said was an unusually high amount of activity for January.

But unemployment remains a problem for some residents despite the improving trends. This week, Nineveh resident Robert Richardson stopped at WorkOne in Franklin, the state employment office, continuing his efforts to find a job after being out of work for three months.

“It makes it hard to eat, pay your bills, just do anything,” said Richardson, who has a wife and four children.

Since losing his job, he has been struggling to find work and said he’s looking for anything full time at this point. He expects he may not find a job until the weather warms up.

“A lot of temporary jobs, a day or two, maybe part-time or seasonal jobs. A lot of construction work is not open right now. It’s really poor right now,” he said.

Experts believe that the state and county unemployment rates will continue to drop this year and more jobs will be available for those who need them.

But one concern is how national legislation, such as health care reform, could impact businesses.

“The smaller businesses, those that were responsible for half the jobs we gained during the last expansion, they’re still trying to figure out the Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, and their hiring decisions. In terms of larger business, they’ve probably got that squared away and probably are still kind of tapping their fingers waiting for a broader resolution in Washington,” said Timothy Slaper, director of economic analysis with the Indiana Business Research Center.

Spending decisions being made by lawmakers also could affect Indiana businesses, since several Hoosier industries are involved in manufacturing for national defense projects, where spending could be cut this year, Slaper said.

But he doesn’t expect significant changes from what happened last year.

“We can continue to see modest progress towards that elusive goal of around 6 percent unemployment,” Slaper said.

Morphew thinks the diversity of local industries will help continue lowering the unemployment rate.

“I think we’ll continue to stay under the state average, and I think (the rate) will continue to remain steady. I think it is going to reduce itself again, the numbers have told us that,” Morphew said.

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