Carter unemployment rate among lowest in area

By Rozella Hardin

   The development of new businesses in Elizabethton and Carter County is expected to give the local economy a big boost in 2004 as well as expand the job market.
   To date, Wal-Mart has purchased parcels of the North American Rayon properties for the construction of a Wal-Mart Super Center. Construction is expected to begin this spring on the new building, with an opening date slated in August 2004. Lowe's Home Improvement Center has also indicated plans to build a store on NAR properties.
   Other businesses have announced expansions. Food City's plans in 2004 include expanding its store located in the shopping center at the Broad Street and 19-E Bypass intersection. The present store will take in vacated space on the west side of the building, which will allow for expansion. Plans are to locate a pharmacy within the store.
   Also, Elizabethton Federal Bank on Sycamore Street has received approval from the Elizabethton Planning Commission to expand its facilities, as well as renovate the present building.
   "There are some good things happening in Elizabethton and Carter County," Haynes Elliott, Director of Economic Development, said this week. "Despite what some might think, Carter County's unemployment rate is lower than the state and national average and is among the lowest in our region.
   "The figures speak for themselves. In November we had an unemployment rate of 4.8. Only Washington County had a lower unemployment rate in this area -- 4.2 percent," exclaimed Elliott.
   The breakdown for unemployment in surrounding counties for November was: Greene, 5.1 percent; Sullivan, 5.3 percent; Hamblen, 6.2 percent; Hawkins, 6.7 percent, and Johnson, 7.2 percent.
   The national unemployment rate is 6 percent, while the state rate is 5.5 percent. December employment figures will be out Tuesday.
   According to the latest statistics, Carter County has a labor force of 26,860 with 25,560 of that number employed. Latest figures showed 1,340 persons employed in the county.
   Herb Stepple of ETSU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in reflecting on the November unemployment figures, said that while regional employment decreased by .3 percent, it represents a loss of over 600 jobs compared to a year ago. In his report, Stepple said, the number of unemployed workers also fell again -- reflecting discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force.
   Stepple says the economy shows signs of recovery and should the economy pick up and grow, it will mean job creation and lower unemployment in the Tri-Cities.
   "New businesses and new developments can only result in new jobs and new revenue for the city and county," said Elliott.
   "The Wal-Mart Super Center will translate into added jobs in the service sector as will Lowe's. There are other jobs that are going to be added as more commercial developments are announced next year. At this point, we don't how many, but it will be significant," Elliott said.
   The latest figures available from the First Tennessee Development District show that Carter County registered a total of $274,684,439 in retail sales in 2002. "I expect this figure will be up some this year, with the economy showing some recovery signs," said Elliott.
   While jobs in the service sector do not pay as much as jobs in the industrial sector, Carter County also fares quite well in buying power. FTDD statistics from 2002 (the latest figures available) show that the median household income was $27,371, with an overall net buying income for the county put at $781,700,000.
   Statewide, this year, jobs have been added in food service and drinking places, educational and health services, and administration, support and waste management. Decreases took place in manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing.
   According to Elliott, Elizabethton and Carter County like much of the Tri-Cities is looking at a new and different job market. "We are hoping to attract industry, but at the same time, new retail business development helps enhance that effort," he said.