By Kim West
Despite a slight increase in unemployment claims in Limestone County, a majority of top local employers have experienced job growth in the past six months.
The county’s unemployment claims went from 5.7 percent in November to 5.8 last month, while the state jobless rate dipped from 7.5 percent to 7.1 from November to December based on employment figures released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The TVA-Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant remains the top Limestone County employer with nearly 1,400 workers who currently maintain and operate the plant compared to 1,165 workers last year, according to TVA and a mid-year review conducted in 2012 by the Limestone County Economic Development Association.
Limestone County Schools, which has more than 9,100 students, has approximately 1,100 employees compared to 1,064 six months ago and is the second-leading local employer.
Steelcase, Inc., which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is the leading manufacturing employer in the county and the third-leading overall with approximately 1,200 employees, up from 1,106 last year.
Fourth-leading employer Federal Mogul has 590 workers, while Target Distribution Center has 580. Both companies experienced a minimal decrease from last year, as FM had 630 and TDC had 600.
Athens-Limestone Hospital increased from a full-time workforce of 500 to 543 employees, while Athens State University has 398, including 232 full time.
“Our industries have survived the recession and now that the economy is coming back, quite a bit of manufacturing companies are seeing an increased demand, which causes increased employment,” said LCEDA President Tom Hill. “The companies that deal with the automotive market and suppliers are going to continue to improve like they did in 2012, and we will see manufacturing and automotive companies like Electrofil, Federal Mogul, Tris USA Inc. and USA Inc. continue to do well.”
Last February, Elkmont-based Electrofil announced it would add 200 employees in a five-year period as part of a $95 million growth plan that would make the Elkmont location the North American headquarters for the automotive company.
Hill said unemployment numbers are a reliable indicator of positive economic growth. Limestone County’s unemployment rate of 5.8 percent compares favorably to Madison’s 5.5 and Morgan County’s 6.1. All three counties are well below the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in December, which the Labor Department reported was the lowest in five years.
“From a standpoint of recruiting new business, the economy continues to improve even though a lot of companies are waiting for Congress to get through more (fiscal legislation) before hiring additional employees,” Hill said. “The fiscal cliff was anticipated at the end of (last) year, and only part of it was resolved … automatic spending cuts could be devastating to those companies who depend on federal budgets.
“One of the primary things we focus on that would indicate health in our economy is unemployment going down, and I think we’ll continue to see that go down and improve in the coming year.”