In June, the local jobless mark was 8.4. A year ago, the July 2012 rate was also 8.1, according to Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The local mark came in higher than the national unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, but lower than the Tennessee tally of 8.5.
Bradley County’s jobless mark for July sits in a two-way tie with Montgomery County (Clarksville) for the 19th lowest unemployment rate among Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Although Bradley County’s working numbers continued to show seasonal improvements — with another joblessness decline projected in August with the return to work of nonteaching school staff — the construction industry remained a mystery. However, it is one with a logical explanation, Green explained.
“Construction employment ... in the spring and summer, normally sees a fairly strong uptick,” Green said. “And I know we’ve had positive reports in both residential and commercial building permits. But construction employment has only risen slightly in Bradley County over the last few months.”
He added, “As a matter of fact, construction employment in Bradley County right now stands about 100 people below what it was this time last year.”
But there’s a reason.
It’s because for all the construction activity that’s going on in Cleveland and Bradley County, much of it is being provided by out-of-town crews whose workers aren’t local residents, Green explained. He said in many cases, outside construction employees are in Cleveland for two to three weeks, or two to three months, until their project is completed. Once done, they move on to other communities where their employer has landed construction contracts.
“Bradley County’s construction is on the upswing, but sometimes it doesn’t match up with the amount of building permits that we’re seeing,” he noted. “Sometimes [local] companies will bring in construction firms from out of county or out of state.”
This is not to say that some local workers are not hired by outside firms to help complete building projects, but it does better explain why the numbers in construction hiring don’t match the level of building that’s taking place in Cleveland and Bradley County, Green said.
Although construction is a bit of an anomaly, the manufacturing, retail trade, and education and health services industries are not. Green said in July each showed slight gains in worker numbers.
“We were surprised to see a nice increase in Education and Health Services,” Green said. “That [includes] private education and privately owned nursing homes ... they had a jump.”
One of the major players locally in private education is Lee University whose campus growth is also being reflected in teaching and support positions.
For the first time this spring and summer, hiring in Leisure and Hospitality (tourism) went flat for July.
“That means the hiring for the rafting over in Polk County, and the hiring for the tourist season, is pretty much over with,” Green said. “It doesn’t mean they’re laying off, but it does mean the hiring has peaked because of the time of year.”
An industry category known as Local Government, which includes public school systems, remained flat in July, but Green said the August rate will reflect new activity.
“People who are not on a 12-month contract will be coming back to work in August,” he noted. “That generally helps the unemployment rate.”
As has become a Bradley County tradition — at least, for most of 2013 — the local jobless picture has led all other performers in Southeast Tennessee, including the metropolitan area of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
Some of the rates among Bradley County neighbors included Hamilton, 8.6 percent, down from 8.8 in June; McMinn, 9.4, down from 9.9; Meigs, 10.2, down from 10.7; Monroe, 11.5, down from 11.6; Polk, 8.6, down from 9; and Rhea, 11.9, down from 12.7.
Statewide, unemployment rates dropped in 79 counties, increased in 12 and remained the same in four.
For the month, the rate ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 55 counties, and 10 percent or higher in 40.
Counties recording the lowest unemployment rates in July included Williamson, 5.8; Lincoln, 6; Wilson, Cheatham, Sumner, Robertson and Davidson, 6.7; Knox and Blount, 7; and Rutherford, 7.2.
Counties reporting the highest jobless marks were Scott, 17.2; Weakley, 14.3; Lauderdale, 13.6; Hancock, 13.5; Henderson, 13.2; Gibson, 12.9; Perry, 12.5; Carroll, 12.4; Lawrence, 12.2; and Van Buren, 12.
Green said the July numbers for Bradley County fell in line with seasonal expectations.
“On the whole, it was a good month,” he noted. “Things are looking pretty healthy in Bradley County. The unemployment rate did drop slightly and that’s always good. If this trend continues, the influx of nonteaching personnel in August will help the unemployment rate to decline even further.”
Green is also looking to the horizon when the new Publix Supermarket on Huff Parkway is expected to add 120 to 150 jobs to the local employment picture. If the giant grocer opens during the first week of November, as the developer projects, the hiring will be included in the November employment report. If the opening comes late in the month, the jobs will be recorded on the December ledger.
Green explained the Department of Labor and Workforce Development cutoff is always the week of the 12th each month. Hiring during this week is recorded on that month’s numbers. Later hiring is tacked onto the following month’s report.
The opening of Publix will be a hiring positive for Bradley County, as will new businesses opening in Bradley Square Mall, the analyst suggested. In the distance, Green said he is not aware of anticipated job losses in Bradley County although winter’s cold and wetter conditions routinely impact construction.
“I don’t see any layoffs or anything that’s negative in Bradley County [in the short term],” he said. At the same time, the analyst stressed he doesn’t make predictions.
But, one seasonal forecast that is nearing is in retail trade when part-time and seasonal hiring should pick up in November for the holidays, Green cited.