Low jobless rates linked to strong employers

Posted: Mar. 27, 2014 9:47 pm Updated: Apr. 17, 2014 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Adams and Brown counties show up in pale blue-green on a map that shows February unemployment rates in Illinois.

Brown County has the lowest jobless rate at 4.5 percent, and Adams County is next lowest at 7.0 percent. Rates that are higher are shown in other colors.

To Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, the state's lowest jobless rates are evidence of strong employers with strong national connections.

"Dot Foods had done an expansion on a warehouse, and they were doing a job fair earlier this month," Merrett said.

Dot Foods has its national headquarters in Mount Sterling, employing more than 1,000 people there. The company also has trucks delivering goods nationwide.

"We're seeing the American economy continuing to gain a little bit of momentum. We're not necessarily seeing that statewide, but with Dot Foods -- they serve a national market, but they do have local operations," Merrett said.

He sees a similar impact in Adams County, where the latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that 17.5 percent of jobs are in manufacturing. That's much higher than national or state rates of 10.76 and 12.02 percent, respectively. Many of Adams County's manufacturers reach national or even international markets.

GatesAir, formerly Harris Broadcasting, builds television and radio transmitters used around the world. Gardner Denver builds pumps and compressors for global companies, and dozens of other businesses have similar connections.

"My sense is that we're seeing a slow recovery here, and it's logistics driven. If the businesses have linkages beyond the state, they are doing better" and creating or sustaining more jobs, Merrett said.

Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said the state's employers added 6,400 jobs during February. The 9.4 percent jobless rate is lower than the 10.0 percent figure from a year earlier.

"February's job numbers show that our economy continues to improve," Rowell said.

"It also reminds us that more is needed and expected because the economic success has not returned to every household."

Unemployment reports from both January and February were released this month after state and national employment offices made annual system adjustments.