No unemployment relief in sight


First Posted: 7/1/2009

Surry County already has the second-highest unemployment rate in Northwest North Carolina and the Triad area, and a local official says theres no relief in sight.
The countys jobless level stands at 13.2 percent, based on activity in May, the latest month for which figures are available. That translated into 2,272 Surry residents receiving unemployment checks during the month.
But some new developments, including another large company closure now in progress, could push local unemployment even higher in the coming months, according to Roberta Wessling, manager of the Employment Security Commission office in Mount Airy.
While one major negative factor surrounds the present shutdown of a textile manufacturer in Elkin, another relates to tentative layoffs of teachers. As the effects of both kick in this summer, the unemployment rolls stand to be impacted.
I havent been seeing any large expansions or employers coming in, so theres really nothing right now to level the playing field, the ESC official responded Wednesday when asked if the local jobs outlook contained any bright spots.
I dont have any expectations.
A key hit is coming with the closure of WestPoint Homes in Elkin, which employs about 135 to 140 people. Workers were informed in April that the Elkin facility, as well as two other company plants, would be ceasing operations.
Some of the Elkin workers were let go in June and others will be during July, Wessling said, and their claims will inflate Surrys jobless rate along with seasonal factors. Theyre slowly starting to close out we dont have the final date on it yet, Wessling said of the WestPoint Homes shutdown.
The company that manufactures and markets bedding including comforters, blankets and sheets, and bath fashions such as towels and accessories, is engaged in a gradual slowdown as it works to fill remaining orders.

Teacher Layoffs
The second negative factor involves tentative layoffs of teachers for the next school year due to budget cuts. This also affects some teacher aides and other school system personnel whose contracts normally are up for renewal around this time of year, Wessling said.
Normally, educational personnel who arent contractually employed, or paid, during the summer break dont qualify for unemployment benefits. But the difference this year is that those employees have been told that their contracts wont be renewed as the situation now stands, which does make them eligible through a rare combination of circumstances.
Wessling said this situation is occurring among school systems all around the state along with those in Surry and Yadkin counties which are in the local ESC district. The N.C. Association of Educators has reported that at least 20,000 jobs could be slashed among the states school systems in the coming months as a result of budget reductions in Raleigh.
The Mount Airy ESC official said that the school personnel targeted locally could in fact have their contracts renewed by the time the next academic year begins. But in the meantime, that could push us up a little bit higher, she said of the tentative layoffs impact on the jobless figure.
Wessling did not have a total Wednesday for the number of people who potentially could lose their jobs under this scenario. She said some teachers who live in Surry County work in other nearby communities such as Stokes and Forsyth counties that are facing the same outlook. Theyre under the gun, she said.

Only Rockingham Higher
Surrys 13.2 percent jobless rate for May, which is based on preliminary data, exceeded that of all other counties in this region, including the Northwest, Northwest Piedmont and Triad, as well as neighboring counties in Virginia.
Among those are Stokes County, at 11.2 percent; Yadkin, 11.4 percent; Wilkes, 13.0 percent; Forsyth, 10.0 percent; Alleghany, 12.4 percent; Guilford, 11.3 percent; and Davie, 12.7 percent.
Only Rockingham County, which is part of the Northwest Piedmont Workforce Development Board territory along with Surry and four other counties, has a higher jobless rate in the region 14.3 percent.
Scotland County (17.2 percent) experienced the most severe unemployment in North Carolina during May, compared to the statewide figure of 11.1 percent.
Among Virginia counties, May joblessness stood at 11.2 percent in Carroll County, 12.6 percent in Patrick County and 11.8 percent in Grayson County, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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