Slow growth nets better job numbers

Published 2:29 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

Covington County was among those recording lower unemployment rates in August, an improvement that likely can be attributed to changes by several small companies.

The jobless rate was down from 8.2 percent in July to 7.7 percent in August, percentages that reflect about 40 more jobs in the county.

“I think you can look around and see growth in several places,” Rick Clifton, president of the Covington County Economic Development Commission, said.

“In Opp, you’ve got American Apparel with 70 or 80 jobs coming back,” he said. “Huhtamaki has hired some additional people. Vector Aerospace is still up with higher employment.

“If you look around, Sitel has more than 500 right now,” Clifton said. “MFG has hired some more people.

“There are a lot of smaller, existing companies increasing a little bit. America Apparel is the biggest.”

Right now, he said, CCEDC’s top priority is finding a tenant for the South Alabama Regional Airport. CCEDC and the South Alabama Regional Airport Authority announced earlier this summer that DRS Technologies will not renew its lease on the large hangar at the airport. The lease expires in December.

DRS leased the hangars with the hope of expanded its operations to do maintenance work here. However, federal cuts mean less work is being done on military aircraft, which made it harder for the company to get work. Company officials have said despite that, they were appreciative of local efforts to help them. Similarly, Clifton and others involved in economic development said DRS did all it could to get work here.

The lease ends in December.

“Right now, we’re trying to make this our priority,” he said. “We’ve had some people inquire about it, but nobody solid yet.”

Covington County’s jobless rate is slightly higher than the state’s, which was 6.9 percent in August. The local rate is lower than those of three counties to the north and west, and slightly higher than three counties to the north and east.

“If you compare us to other rural counties, places that are like us, we are doing well,” Clifton said. “As a matter of fact, we are doing better than most.”