Rock County unemployment reaches two-year low

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Kevin Hoffman
Thursday, December 23, 2010
— Rock County unemployment has reached its lowest point in the post-General Motors era, providing a glimmer of hope that the local economy is slowly beginning its recovery.

The state Department of Workforce Development on Wednesday released November’s unemployment figures, showing Rock County’s rate dipped to a two-year low of 9.4 percent. That’s a 2-percent change from November 2009—the largest improvement of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

The last time Rock County’s rate was lower was when it was 8.1 percent in December 2008. That was just as Janesville’s GM plant was discontinuing production, leaving thousands of factory workers and suppliers out of work.

A month later unemployment jumped to 11.6 percent, and it remained in double digits until this fall.

“I think there is reason to think (improvement) will continue,” said John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville. “We’re in that slow process of soft recovery … and we’re not too far from recovery to the highs of the stock market prior to the rapid decline.”

The slow road back to prosperity comes with a mixed bag of variables, Beckord said. Consumer spending, accelerated by holiday spending, is part of that, he said.

Businesses also benefited from federal stimulus spending. Beckord said the balance sheets of major manufacturers are healthy, and that those businesses are just looking for the right time to invest in growth.

Locally the signs are there, he added. Woodman’s opened its new corporate headquarters in Janesville this year, St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital is now under construction and Mercy Health System is working on a multimillion-dollar expansion.

Data Dimensions, a document conversion and management company, also completed a project earlier this year that could eventually grow its workforce by more than 200 people, Beckord said.

“The cash position of companies improved dramatically over the past 12 months,” he added. “Companies are sitting on a lot of cash, waiting for the right signals to begin to expand. We’re starting to see a little of that.

“We’ve seen more expansion projects by companies in Rock County in the last two years than we did in the previous two years.”

Rock County has shown steady improvement since 2009, when unemployment at times eclipsed the 13-percent mark.

Last month, Rock County had the second highest unemployment rate in Wisconsin. In November, it dropped to 10th.

Walworth County unemployment increased moderately for a third consecutive month, rising to 7.4 percent. The county began the year at nearly 11 percent unemployment.

“Compared to a year ago, every metro area, every major city, and nearly every county experienced a drop in unemployment,” state Department of Workforce Development Secretary Roberta Gassman said. “We are on the right track, but we must continue to do everything we can to grow job opportunities and put more people back to work.”

Last updated: 3:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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