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State unemployment figures show Hardin County rates declined dramatically during 2012.
The county started the year with nearly double-digit unemployment at 9.7 percent, which equated to more than 4,700 unemployed, but closed December with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, or about 3,632 eligible workers.
The statistics, compiled by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet’s Office of Employment and Training, track the state’s jobless rate, which trended downward at a slightly slower rate than the national average for 2012.
The county, meanwhile, dipped below state and national averages for the majority of the months documented in 2012 while maintaining a workforce of nearly 50,000.
The U.S. average was hovering at 8.8 percent during January 2012 while Kentucky’s jobless percentage loomed higher at 9.5 percent, according to the state’s statistics. By December, Kentucky’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent while the national average was roughly 7.6 percent.
Brad Richardson, executive director of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, said the numbers are consistent with reports the chamber has heard from its members about resurgence in the local economy and the availability of more jobs.
“I’d like to see it go down even more,” he said.
Richardson noted a gradual uptick in the economy and stable real estate values, which were not leveled as heavily during the housing crash. Echoing past sentiments, Richardson said the influx of workers and jobs at Fort Knox helped keep the county “recession proof.”
Richardson said higher unemployment rates also may have been driven by the length of time out-of-work residents were entitled to unemployment benefits.
“For some, there’s no incentive to get back to the workforce,” he said.
Rick Games, president of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation, said the lowered rate is driven by a rebounding economy where more businesses and companies are investing in expansions and larger labor pools.
Metalsa and Altec are two local companies expanding their facilities and jobs base, he said, and others are expanding internally through the addition of new service lines or products.
Games said almost all of the companies housed within the city’s industrial park currently are hiring.
“(There are) a lot of good things going on,” he said.
Flex Films, an Indian flexible films manufacturer, also has started production at its facility on Black Branch Road, Games said. The company has promised a $180 million investment and 250 jobs once all phases of construction are complete. The first phase was expected to yield 125 new jobs.
Games said the strength of the manufacturing industry helps create more jobs and the presence of Fort Knox leads to new opportunities in the service industry. Two popular chain restaurants, IHOP and LongHorn Steakhouse, opened in Elizabethtown in 2012.
IHOP, which opened in December and is known for its pancake variations, hired around 150 workers initially. Staffing was expected to stabilize to around 90 full and part-time employees, according to restaurant officials. LongHorn opened last summer and was expected to employee between 80 and 100.
Hardin Judge-Executive Harry Berry pointed out the county’s average consistently has dipped below state and national averages and said he has noticed the decrease is part of a larger trend.
However, he said he knows the rate reflects those who are struggling to find work.
“If you are one of those people still out of work and currently seeking employment, you don’t feel so fortunate,” he said.
But Berry said the decrease is a step in the right direction and a trend he believes could continue because of the self-fulfilling prophecy that success breeds success.
The county consistently has held one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Lincoln Trail region of Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties while maintaining the largest workforce.
December jobless rates, which are preliminary, showed LaRue County had an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent while Grayson County had a 9.7 percent rate and Meade County had a 9.3 percent unemployment rate. Breckinridge County finished December at 7.8 percent unemployment.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.