The unemployment rate in Kokomo and the surrounding metro area dropped precipitously in August, with the manufacturing sector leading the way.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development said Indiana added an estimated 3,000 manufacturing jobs in August, leading to big jobs increases across the state.
The state didn’t see exceptional growth in that sense, because Indiana is more dependent on manufacturing jobs than any other state.
But the unemployment rate fell from 9.7 percent to 9.1 percent in the city of Kokomo, and from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent in the metro area, which includes Tipton County.
Dr. Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Center for Business Research, said two dynamics are happening in the Kokomo area.
“First, the large scale investment that took place at your large auto campuses over the past years is now leading to more local manufacturing jobs, probably in the supply chain,” Hicks said. “Second, as manufacturing continues to really do well in Indiana, the demand for local goods and services is also growing.”
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said he doesn’t like to put much credence into monthly numbers, but said the city’s overall trend is good.
“Everything we’re doing is trying to focus on long-term stability,” he said.
Since July 2012, the Kokomo metro area has gained 1,161 jobs, including 392 gained last month. Hicks said while wages and unemployment haven’t fully recovered from pre-recession levels, his suspicion is the numbers are getting close.
“I’m not completely surprised,” Goodnight said. “You try to have a gut feeling and a grasp of what’s going on, from the people you know and the investment going on in the community.”
Hicks said he thinks Kokomo’s quality of life investments are also starting to pay dividends.
“Part of this is good fortune is being in an area in which manufacturers are investing, but part of it is the result of good work in the Kokomo area,” Hicks said. “By focusing on the fundamentals of quality of place, Kokomo in particular may be seeing the fruits of a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle of investment.