After embracing a half-point drop in its jobless numbers to 7.5 percent in September, Bradley County’s rate inched slightly upward a month later to 7.6, updates by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development indicate.
Although the local figure rests in a two-way tie with Franklin County as the 20th lowest unemployment mark statewide for October, it continues to hover above last year’s rate of 6.9 percent for the same period.
Larry Green, labor market analyst who monitors Bradley County’s jobs picture, said the strengthening employment report comes on the shoulders of two surprising sources — tourism (described on state ledgers as leisure and hospitality) and construction whose numbers traditionally begin to fade with the approach of the colder and wetter autumn and winter seasons.
With the travel season ending, local hotels and restaurants routinely feel the bite and begin to reduce their worker numbers. But, coupled with a vibrant building industry, tourism through October continued to supplement Bradley County’s growing workforce.
Both are expected to show declines for November — based on seasonal averages — but simultaneously retail trade should begin to pick up, Green said. If manufacturing stays strong, as it did in October, Bradley County’s jobless rate could continue to dip as area shoppers ring in the Christmas cheer and wring out their credit cards.
“[In spite of] the very small loss that we saw in October in retail trade, we expect a rebound with the holiday hiring in November,” Green said. “Those (retail trade and temporary services) were really the only two losses of any significance that we saw in Bradley County in October.”
Green said seeing construction numbers remain strong locally is a good indicator of the area’s continuing economic recovery.
“Overall, I think we’re pretty much on track to finish the year out with a good unemployment rate,” Green projected. “Bradley County continues to compare favorably to the surrounding counties.”
That includes Hamilton, he said. As Southeast Tennessee’s largest metropolitan area and most diversified employment base, Chattanooga routinely leads the region with the lowest jobless rates. However, that changed about a year ago as Bradley County’s growing manufacturing and nonmanufacturing sectors expanded job opportunities.
In October, Hamilton County reported an employment rate of 8 percent. Statewide, the jobless mark was 8.4 and the national rate came in at 7.3, still well below the county figures reported in Tennessee’s southeastern corner.
Jobless rates among Bradley County’s immediate neighbors included McMinn County, 9.2 percent, up from 9.1 in September; Meigs, 9.9, up from 9.6; Monroe, 10.8, up from 10.4; Polk, 9.4, up from 8.5; Rhea, 11, up from 10.9; and Hamilton, 8, whose October rate remained unchanged from September.
Statewide, unemployment rates decreased in 18 counties, rose in 64 counties and remained the same in 13. Rates ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 58 counties and 10 percent or higher in 37. No counties reported marks less than 5 percent nor higher than 20 percent.
Lowest jobless figures across Tennessee came in Williamson County, 5.7 percent; Lincoln, 6.1; Cheatham, Moore and Robertson, 6.3; Rutherford, 6.4; Wilson and Sumner, 6.6; and Davidson and Smith, 6.7.
Highest unemployment marks across the state were found in Scott County, 16.1; Lauderdale, 13.6; Gibson, 12.5; Pickett, 12.2; Hancock and Lawrence, 12.1; Hardeman and McNairy, 11.9; Carroll, 11.8; and Haywood, 11.7.
“I don’t see anything ahead that would prevent a good rate going forward in Bradley County [for the rest of the calendar year],” Green said. “A lot will depend on retail trade hiring as it comes in for November and December. If it follows tradition, hiring should be up [and unemployment numbers should be down].”
The local jobless mark remains higher than comparable rates from 2012, and much of this is linked to manufacturing and retail trade, he noted.
“We would like to see growth in manufacturing, but most counties [in Tennessee] are struggling,” Green said. “Bradley County is fortunate that it is not only holding even, but that it is seeing some small gains.”
He added, “Bradley County is doing as well as anyone else in manufacturing.”
Unemployment numbers can always be negatively impacted by “... surprises down the road,” but for now Green advised he “... sees no reason for the rate to make any significant movement upward.”
The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development released the latest unemployment figures for September and October in a combined two-month package because of the recent federal government shutdown.