By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
Mercer County’s unemployment rate hit 7.8 percent in October, the best rate in nearly two years.
The state Department of Labor and Industry released the figures on Friday, showing this was the best rate the county has seen since December 2011 when the rate was 7.5 percent.
But the local rate was still above the national 7.3 percent rate and the state 7.5 percent rate for October.
Mercer County ranked 42nd out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania, tied with Clarion, Lawrence and Mifflin counties, in terms of having the best unemployment rate.
Highlights from October in Mercer County show that the civilian labor force nudged down to 53,200, a drop of 100 from September, while those employed fell to 49,000, a drop of 800 over the same period.
The number of unemployed dropped to 4,100 in October, down by 400 from September.
Goods-producing remained steady at 10,000 jobs in October with service-producing jobs hitting 41,400, up 700 jobs. The job gains in service-producing were seen in retail trade, financial activities, education and health services and local government.
While 7.8 is good in terms of the past five years, from a much longer historical perspective the figure is still high. Yet, the October figure does reflect significant improvement from the depths of the recession when rates in 2009 and 2010 were continually in double digits.
That wasn’t lost on Randy Seitz, CEO of Penn-Northwest Development Corp., Mercer County’s lead economic development agency. Hired two years ago, Seitz said he was given a mission with three key items: Reduce the unemployment rate, stop the population from shrinking and keep well-educated students in the area.
“The unemployment rate is very important to us,’’ Seitz said. “I’m not egotistical enough to believe that the impact of a lower unemployment rate was all due to us. But I do know we have had some impact.’’
New companies entering the county such as Noise Solutions in Sharon and Precision Cast Parts in Greenville have all contributed to adding jobs, he noted. This is far, far different from just two or three years ago when the county and nation were mired in a recession.
“Companies weren’t spending then – they weren’t even talking about plans for spending,’’ Seitz said.
In just the past year that’s changed sharply. Penn-Northwest has spoken to 120 businesses about locating to the area with 13 of those actually visiting sites here and seven setting up shop.
“That’s a huge indication that if the recession isn’t exactly over, it’s on the verge of being over,’’ he said.
Elsewhere in the state, Cameron had the highest unemployment rate at 11.1 percent, while Montour had the lowest at 5.4 percent.
Surrounding counties’ jobless rates were:
• Lawrence, 7.8 percent
• Crawford, 7.3 percent
• Venango, 7.7 percent
• Butler, 6.1 percent