Scotland County’s unemployment rate dropped to 16.6 percent in February, down from 17.8 in January.
With more than 2,000 people out of work, Scotland County still does not compare favorably to surrounding counties, where unemployment rates are significantly lower.
Robeson and Richmond counties shared a 12.9 percent unemployment rate for the month of February, while Hoke (9.2 percent) and Moore (9.5 percent) both had unemployment rates in the single digits.
“We are trying to do whatever we can to get that number lower and I am still not happy with where it is,” said Scotland County Economic Developer Greg Icard of the county’s jobless figure. “Our goal is for everyone who wants to work to be able to find a job.”
Unemployment was also down statewide in February, reaching 9.5 percent versus 10.2 percent in January.
In Feburary of 2012 Scotland County owned a 17.5 percent unemployment rate – one of the highest in the state. This February Graham County held the dubious distinction of having the state’s highest unemployment rate, with 20.2 percent of its job-seekers unemployed.
Icard said that he was optimistic that more jobs would be created in Scotland County this year, pulling the jobless rate down even further.
“We’ve got some projects in the works that I am optimistic about. There is going to be some positive news announced this year, for sure,” Icard said.
The county’s new Small Business Innovation Center represents the front line of the county’s battle against unemployment and Icard said that the small businesses it fosters as well as its multinational tenant are already paying dividends.
Coordinating their hiring efforts with the Employment Security Commission, CCL Label – the multinational label making company which will set up shop in the Small Business Innovation Center’s tenant space – is scheduled to conduct interviews for new positions with their company later in April. Initially hiring five employees, CCL’s investment in Scotland County is likely to grow from there, Icard said.
Scotland County’s economy was crippled by the failure of the state’s textile industry because it was not properly diversified, Icard said. “If you rely on one industry – textiles or manufacturing – then you risk losing it again. Right now we have become pretty diversified.”
Because of the changing nature of industrial investment, the companies that are setting up shop or expanding in Scotland County are bringing fewer jobs than the massive textile and manufacturing firms they replaced, Icard said.
“Most of the new (expansions) are 300 jobs and below. They used to be much larger,” Icard said.
For that reason, progress toward reducing unemployment is expected to come slow, but steady.