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Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Local jobless rates swell in January

Mercer and Auglaize county rates jump more than 2 percent

By Shelley Grieshop

Ohio civilian labor force estimates January 2009 are provided by the Ohio Depart. . .

The number of Grand Lake area people seeking unemployment benefits nearly doubled from December to January, reflecting numerous layoffs after the holiday season.
Mercer County's unemployment rate spiked 2.2 percent in January to 8 percent. Auglaize County's rate jumped 2.5 percent to 9.3 percent, according to the latest figures released by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
Now for the good news: despite the ailing economy, there's been an increase in new companies seeking local sites to set up shop, according to area economic development officials.
"We've had more leads come through in January and February than the last six months of 2008," said Greg Myers, executive director of the Auglaize County Economic Development office.
Recently he's been working with a solar panel company seeking to locate in the area, he said.
Like everyone else, Myers hopes to see loans and credit start to flow and product demand increase in order to break the stagnant chain gripping the manufacturing industry.
Statewide, unemployment rose from 7.4 percent to 8.8 percent in January - the highest level in more than 20 years. The overall U.S. rate for January was 7.6 percent.
Mercer County remains the 12th lowest county for unemployment in the state. It held the lowest spot in May, June and October 2008.
As of January, 33 of Ohio's 88 counties posted a lower unemployment rate than Auglaize County.
Traffic has definitely increased at the Mercer County Workforce Development-One Stop office in Celina, where a variety of job-related services are available.
"The one thing we've noticed is the number of new clients, people we've never seen in our office before," said Karen Platfoot, program manager for WIA, which serves Mercer, Auglaize, Van Wert and Hardin counties.
Platfoot said many of the new applicants worked numerous years at the same company before receiving their walking papers. A large majority are filing for unemployment benefits for the first time.
"It's a whole new experience for them," she said.
A lot of clients are seeking help with training costs so they can go back to school to upgrade their current job skills or change careers, Platfoot said. It's no secret; jobs are scarce so every advantage counts, she added.
In December, 305 new claims for unemployment were filed in Mercer and Auglaize counties. In January, that number jumped to 539.
Although unemployment figures are increasing locally, the area remains more economically stable than many parts of the state. Five counties in Ohio have jobless rates above 15 percent: Williams, Fulton, Henry, Ottawa, Huron and Crawford in the north, and four more in the south, Adams, Pike, Vinton and Morgan. Huron County was highest at 18.3, with nearly 20 percent of its population out of work.
Other area counties have problems, too. Van Wert County posted 13.7 percent; Allen, 11.2; Shelby, 11.7; and Darke, 10.8.
The number of unemployed workers in Ohio in January increased from 445,000 to 524,000. The latest figures show 181,000 Ohio workers lost their jobs during the last year.
The American public seems to have mixed emotions about President Obama's stimulus plan, which promises the creation and retention of thousands of jobs.
Myers believes our great nation has few options right now.
"I think the worse thing of all would be to sit back and do nothing," he said.
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