By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
More people returned to the ranks of the employed in Kokomo in February as the unemployment rate dropped for most areas in the region.
Indiana Workforce Development released the preliminary unemployment data for February on Friday and it showed that Howard County ranks 35th among the 92 Indiana counties.
According to the figures released by the state the number of people employed in Kokomo climbed by 225 last month to 16,893. The pool of people in the labor force also increased by 167 to 16,893 and the number of people unemployed dropped by 53 to 2,125.
The state figures showed the number of people that gained employment in Kokomo was the highest among cities of comparable size in central Indiana. Muncie lost 264 jobs last month, Anderson saw a decline of 100 people working and Marion added 21 jobs.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said he is hopeful people are optimistic about the direction of the local economy.
“The feeling I get from just talking to people is that things are improving overall,” he said. “We had a population increase, the number of building permits have increased and job growth is taking place. I think we’re heading in the right direction as a region.”
Goodnight said he views the unemployment numbers cautiously because they can change from month to month.
Tipton County saw the unemployment rate in February decline by 1.2 percent to a rate of 10.3 percent. The data showed 86 people found employment last month to 6,422 while the labor forced increase only by 2 to 7,160. The number of workers unemployed declined by 84 to 738.
Jeff Sheridan, executive director of the Tipton County Economic Development Organization, said the economic situation in Tipton County is better than it has been in the past.
“There is a lot of optimism about Chrysler, but there has been successes in the agricultural community,” he said. “The recent expansion announcement by Pioneer and other projects coming down the pike.”
Sheridan said a lot of people have done hard work to take advantage of opportunities that have been presented.
“Folks in the entire region have worked hard to correct some of the problems in the past and we’re seeing the results of those efforts,” he said.
The Howard County unemployment rate dropped to 10.2 percent with 416 people finding jobs raising the number of employed residents to 31,223.
“There is success in terms of job creation in the region,” Chris Hamm, interim director of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance said. “The sense is the region, anchored by Kokomo, is being successful in turning of economic development projects.
“There is a lot of expansion and new growth opportunities,” he said. “The numbers are an indication of the strong up tick of the economy in Kokomo and the region.”
For the second month in a row, Indiana also experienced a significant swell in the labor force, adding 7,500 Hoosiers, 3,800 of which were unemployed individuals who began looking for work again. The January and February labor force increase of nearly 22,000 people is the largest two month climb in nearly 20 years.
Indiana continued a steady trend of private sector expansion in February, adding 5,800 jobs, maintaining a streak of growth dating back to July 2011, Workforce February marked the 38th month of private sector increases in the 42 months since July 2009, the low point of employment in Indiana. In that period, Indiana has added more than 188,000 private sector jobs, nearly 65,000 of which have been in the manufacturing sector alone.
“While the extraordinary jump in the Hoosier labor force over the past two months tells us folks are optimistic about Indiana’s economic recovery, the unemployment rate is still too high,” Scott B. Sanders, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, said. “Job growth is certainly moving in the right direction, but there is definitely a good deal more work to do.”
Sanders also noted initial unemployment claims are now at their lowest levels in eight years.