The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released updated unemployment figures this week for the month of August. It was good news across the state, as numbers showed a decrease in the unemployment rate in 90 of Tennessee's 95 counties including Dyer County. The unemployment rate in the county dropped from 13.2 percent in July to 12.1 percent in August. Although still significantly higher than the national average of 8.1 percent, the decrease shows that Dyer County continues to head in the right direction in 2012.
Unemployment figures this year are much lower in comparison to the same months last year with the exception of the month of July, which showed a 0.5 percent increase over July 2011 (a reflection of the Briggs and Stratton plant closing in June). The current unemployment rate, which hit a four-year low in April of this year at 10.4 percent, is a far cry from the 16 percent it was just three years ago in July 2009. While it is good to see the unemployment numbers trending downward this year, Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Allen Hester commented that there is still a lot of work to be done.
"It's still too high," said Hester. "We would like to see single-digit numbers, but it is going to be a little longer before we come through this long recession."
Dyer County has not been in single-digit unemployment numbers since December 2009. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel according to Hester.
"Our prospect activity was lowest in 2009 but was higher in 2010 and 2011 and we are on pace this year to equal or exceed the number of prospects we had last year."
Hester confirmed that there are six active prospects currently looking at Dyersburg including automotive and food-processing plants. He says that there are also local manufacturers that are contemplating various levels of expansion. According to Hester, restaurants like Cracker Barrel are locating to Dyersburg because they see a capable work force, a wonderful medical community and a successful agribusiness base. Community leaders say they continue to do all they can to sell the community to prospective businesses.
"One of our goals is to create employment opportunities for our citizens," commented Dyersburg Mayor John Holden. "We have been through some tough times that has not only affected our community, but other communities as well. However, we will continue to work hard to sell our community to prospective businesses."
Holden further commented that the city has been working to improve the community's infrastructure, which he believes will help make Dyersburg even more attractive to future businesses. Improvements such as the utility extensions out in Millsfield Highway, the addition of water towers out in Industrial Park, the building of two community safe rooms and the downtown renovations that have improved the aesthetics of the community all help to attract and retain businesses. In addition, the city continues to pursue grant funding that improves the quality of life for its citizens such as Safe Routes to Schools that will build sidewalks from neighboring communities to Dyersburg Middle School.
"We have a low tax base, quality city and county schools and an excellent medical community," said Holden. "All of these are points that sell our community."
These improvements have earned Dyersburg the distinction of being one of the top micropolitans in the country. Earlier this year Site Selection magazine recognized Dyersburg among the top 100 micropolitans studied in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a micropolitan as a rural county whose largest city does not exceed a population of 50,000. Dyersburg was one of only eight micropolitans that made the list in the state of Tennessee. The recognition was confirmed recently by the Policom Corporation, an independent economic research firm that ranks metropolitans and micropolitans according to their economic strength. Dyersburg was ranked as the top micropolitan in West Tennessee and the eighth best in the state. There are 576 micropolitans in the country, 20 of them are in Tennessee.
The addition of Cracker Barrel on the north side of the interstate and the Port of Cates Landing nearing completion is bringing renewed excitement throughout the community that new jobs will be coming to the area soon. Cracker Barrel is expected to open with approximately 150 new jobs and the hope that more retailers will open businesses on that side of the interstate. Hester says that the chamber has already fielded inquiries from retailers looking to locate to that side of the interstate.
"I feel good about where we are heading long term," said Hester. "When the port comes online and the economy comes alive again we will be ready."
In the meantime there are opportunities for the over 2,100 unemployed residents to get further education. Dyersburg State Community College has created a new certificate program called Certified Production Technician. The nationally recognized certification gives individuals interested in careers in manufacturing the knowledge of how to work in an advanced production environment. Other programs that can strengthen an applicant's resume include the Career Readiness Certificate offered by the Northwest Tennessee Career Center, which introduces individuals to the work force, reviews job expectations and explains corporate hierarchies.
Information for this article was obtained through Tennessee's Department of Labor and Workforce and www.policom.com.