Unemployment inches up again; retraining options available

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Brunswick County’s unemployment rate increased to 6.1 percent in June from 5.8 in May. Employment officials say the weakening economy is having an effect on typically thriving industries like retail.

Brunswick County ESC Manager Eli Smith said recently the local unemployment office in Shallotte has seen a big increase in traffic since the economy began slowing down.

He said the office averages 160 claims per month, and clients are also filing claims using the Internet.

“We are seeing a drop in construction jobs,” Smith said. “Residential construction has been hit the hardest.”

In addition, the ESC office has not seen as much demand for employees in the retail sector this summer.

Woody Hall, senior economist at the UNC-Wilmington Center for Business and Economic Services, said it’s not typical to see an increase in unemployment in the summer months in a tourism-dependent county like Brunswick.

“In typical times, you would see an increase in employment, a decrease in unemployment and an increase in retail tax collections,” he said.

According to the statistics, employment has remained the same, while unemployment has decreased steadily since January and is not changing, even during the summer.

Although he doesn’t have the June sales tax numbers, the amount for the 12 months ending in April 2008 is down 1 percent from the previous year.

February, March and April of 2008 are the only months since 2000 those numbers, referred to as the “12-month moving total” have decreased.

“The retail sales tax collections are not growing rapidly, and that’s an important sector of Brunswick County’s economy,” Hall said.

The same number of people may be visiting, he said, but they aren’t spending as much as they used to, mainly due to gas prices.

Also struggling are the building supply industry and other industries associated with construction, Smith said of the local economy. The price of gas is affecting boat sales businesses as well as boat manufacturers, he said.

Last month, U.S. Marine laid off 50 workers at a Leland boatbuilding plant. The parent company, Brunswick Corp., announced significant companywide cuts due to the declining economy. A company spokesperson said the retail unit sales of powerboats in the U.S. have been in decline since late 2005, and the rate of decline is accelerating

Consequently, Smith has seen a number of people who had exhausted their benefits applying for extended benefits through extended unemployment compensation, and more people seeking retraining through JobLink and applying for tuition assistance for continued education.

JobLink consists of various local, regional and state agencies providing services for jobseekers at the local ESC office, to give them a single place.

ESC has partnered with vocational rehabilitation and youth programs, Telemon for Spanish-speakers, Brunswick Community College, Brunswick County Schools, N.C. Services for the Blind and the Cape Fear Council of Governments.

ESC also has funds available to pay for tuition through the Workforce Investment Act.

Smith said people are coming into the office every day for information on the available funds.

Money for on-the-job training is also available.

If an employer wants to hire and train someone, the ESC will pay a portion of the employee’s salary or hourly wage during the training.

Also helping get county residents back on the job are new programs at Brunswick Community College.

BCC President Stephen Greiner said this week that the college’s newest curriculum, a two-year degree in surveying technology to begin in the fall, is already attracting residents with other degrees who want to get surveying jobs.

“There is such a need for surveyors that some of the small engineering companies in the county came to us and said, ‘We need help. We need surveyors,’” Greiner said.

When the college receives recommendations from local business people, they work with them to create new training opportunities or curricula to meet those needs.

Also popular for people seeking second careers are the college’s welding and nursing programs, Greiner said.

The two-year biotechnology program is also growing in numbers, Greiner said, noting that most such jobs, such as lab technicians, require two-year technical degrees.

Statewide, the unemployment rate increased slightly in June to 6 percent, according to statistics released last week by the N.C. Employment Security Commission.

It’s the sixth consecutive monthly rate increase.

“The slowing national economy is taking its toll on North Carolina,” said ESC Chairman Harry E. Payne Jr.

“Compared to previous months, the state experienced a minor drop in employment but still pushed unemployment to 6 percent. Our state’s job market remains extremely competitive, and we still have job orders coming into our offices, but not at the pace we have been experiencing.”

The largest job increase during June occurred in government, and the largest decrease was in construction (3,900).

Scotland County experienced June’s highest unemployment rate at 10.7 percent, .3 of a percentage point higher than the previous month. Edgecombe County had the second highest unemployment rate at 10.5 percent.

Currituck County had the lowest unemployment rate in May at 3.4 percent followed by Dare County at 4.1 percent and Wautauga County at 4.4 percent.

sarah shew wilson is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or swilson@brunswickbeacon.com.