Scioto County Commissioner Michael Crabtree says the uptick may be strictly due to seasonal factors. But whatever the reason, Scioto County unemployment numbers dropped from 7.4 percent in February to 6.6 percent in March, the most recent month for which numbers are available. March was at least the second month in a row during which local unemployment figures fell.
The recent drop moved Scioto County out of the top 10 counties in Ohio in terms of unemployment, even if not by much. The county now has the 11th highest unemployment rate of the state’s 80 counties.
Crabtree says the arrival of warm weather also means the arrival of construction season and construction-related jobs. He added workers from various unions are now out in the field instead of sitting around union halls waiting for the phone to ring.
“I don’t believe there’s any one reason you can really point to for the change,” Crabtree says. “But the trend seems to be going in a positive direction. The economy has been on a little bit of an upswing, so I think that’s part of it.”
The county’s unemployment figures are also down from this time last year, according to economic research done by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The bank’s federal website tracks unemployment in the county back to 1990, with the number peaking at 15.8 percent in January 2010. The previous high was 15.4 percent struck way back in January 1992. In March 2017, local unemployment sat at 7.4 percent. Five years ago, in March 2013, the employment rate was a relatively high 12 percent.
Among the state’s 88 counties, preliminary March 2018 unemployment rates ranged from a low of 2.4 percent in Mercer County to a high of 8.5 percent in Monroe County. From February, unemployment rates decreased in all 88 counties. The comparable unemployment rate for Ohio was 4.3 percent in March.
Five counties had unemployment rates at or below 3.0 percent in March. The counties with the lowest rates, other than Mercer were Auglaize, 2.8 percent; Holmes, 2.9 percent; and Delaware and Hancock, 3.0 percent. Six counties had unemployment rates above 7.0 percent in March. The counties with the highest rates, other than Monroe were Meigs and Noble, 7.4 percent; Morgan and Ottawa, 7.2 percent; and Adams, 7.1 percent.
Except for the numbers coming from the fed, all figures were provided by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
Despite what some might see as still not overly spectacular numbers, Crabtree says the county is in good shape financially, having moved from a $2.8 million deficit to now happily dealing with an $18 million carryover.
“We’re still sitting pretty nicely,” Crabtree says.
The surplus should mean the county is able to do more things, Crabtree continues. For one thing, he says Scioto County can apply for grants it would not have been eligible for in the past, as those grants require local matching funds. As examples of projects the county has or will be able to undertake, Crabtree points to construction of an access road in the Wheelersburg area and a sewer project in Minford. He also mentions the recent splash pad project as well as potential future sewer projects in Lucasville and possibly Portsmouth.
Crabtree adds the county has become extremely aggressive in going after as many grants as possible, even hiring a full-time grant writer. “Of course, we don’t get everything, but we go after everything we can.”
In explaining the county’s increased financial wealth, Crabtree points to a reworking of county health benefits among other factors. He also talks about setting aside politics. That new political approach apparently includes the county commissioners’ attitude toward the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA.)
SOPA experienced a bit of drama recently when board member Bob Cole abruptly resigned in the middle of a meeting. At the time, Cole said he was upset about an email regarding a recording of a video conference, a recording which has apparently appeared on social media. Cole claimed the email overstated his involvement with that video conference, arguing his name never came up during that event. As the author of the email, board member Mark Ward offered his hand in apology, but Cole chose to resign anyway.
“It’s an unfortunate misunderstanding,” Ward said after the meeting at which Cole stepped aside. Both Ward and SOPA board President Robert Horton, who is also Scioto County economic development director, downplayed the incident, saying it belonged to the politics of the past.
During an interview with The Daily Times in the offices of the pipefitter’s union he heads, Cole again said his name never came up during the inadvertently videotaped conversation. He said the politics being played are not the politics of the past and very much the politics of the present.
According to Horton and Crabtree, replacing Cole is the job of the Scioto County Commissioners. However, Crabtree said it is not at all clear they will name a replacement. Crabtree said commissioners are taking a somewhat hands-off approach with regard SOPA.
“We want to work with the Port Authority because we want them to succeed, of course,” Crabtree said. But he added commissioners have been criticized in the past for both getting too involved with SOPA as well as for not doing enough. “We’re taking the position of we’re not going to take the bull by the horns,” Crabtree said.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931