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Jobless rate hits record low

June 01, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

Washington County's jobless record hit another record low in April thanks to new businesses opening, existing businesses expanding and seasonal construction work kicking into higher gear, employment officials said Thursday.

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The county's unemployment rate was 2 percent in April, according to preliminary numbers released Thursday from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. That is the lowest jobless rate since at least 1980 and the lowest officials could recall it ever being.

"Wow! That's the lowest I can ever remember," said Tim Troxell, assistant director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

In addition to new businesses opening and existing businesses expanding, there continues to be a heavy demand for workers, as evidenced by all the "Help Wanted" signs, Troxell said.

"Is it making our job harder to attract companies? Yes, a little bit. But still, the reason a lot of people are coming here is the reputation our work force has as being a really good work force," Troxell said.

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The low unemployment rate will not only make it harder for employers to find workers, it will push wages up, said Suzanne Hayes, the commission's chairwoman.

"That's great news if increased productivity goes with it," Hayes said.

As she told the Maryland Economic Development Commission on Wednesday, Hayes reiterated that the county needs to focus on bringing jobs with higher wages to the community.

"We now need to give attention to improving skills and the productivity of the work force so we really do ratchet up in income," Hayes said.

Hayes also wants to see more diversity so if there is a downturn in the economy, the local area won't be hit as hard.

The county's unemployment rate dropped from 2.6 percent in March, according to the labor department. The jobless rate was 3.2 percent in April 1999.

There's been a lot of activity, with Prime Retail and Valley Mall opening stores and in April stores at the Centre of Hagerstown began opening, said Bill Kelly, Job Service supervisor with the labor department's local office.

Other businesses that have hired a large number of employees this year, contributing to the low unemployment rate, are Garden State Tanning, Susquehanna Bancshares and JLG Industries Inc., Kelly said.

Garden State added 75 jobs earlier this year, but started temporarily laying off 400 workers, or one-third of its work force, almost two weeks ago, said Glenn Thornley, the tannery's vice president of operations.

Those workers will all be recalled by Monday, Thornley said.

The temporary layoffs were due to a lull in production as Toyota changed model years, starting production gradually for several new models, Thornley said. The Williamsport tannery produces leather for automobiles.

The layoffs had become an annual event, but there hadn't been any model year layoffs in recent years, Thornley said.

The tannery is constantly looking for qualified employees, Thornley said. With the low unemployment rate it has been hard to find qualified workers, he said.

Maryland's unemployment rate for April fell to 2.9 percent, the second-lowest on record, according to the labor department. It had been 3 percent in March.

Frederick County's jobless rate was 1.7 percent, according to preliminary figures.

Those rates are well below the nation's jobless rate, which was 4.1 percent in April.

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