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Future bright for labor force

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
As workers across Escambia County prepare to celebrate Labor Day on Monday, area economic development officials say the future is bright for employment in the area.
"The economy in Alabama as a whole is doing well," said Wiley Blankenship, director of the Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority. "The Southeast is a good market."
Unemployment rates were up slightly in Escambia County for July 2006 over the previous month and the previous year – but the number of people in the labor force is also up by 434 since 2005. And the number of people employed in the county is up 378 over the same month last year.
"Alabama is leading the nation in unemployment," Blankenship said. "It's not just creation of jobs, but quality jobs. That's a very good sign that things are going well."
Often, success in metropolitan areas can spill over into rural areas.
Blankenship said that is happening – but the tri-county area is also standing on its own.
"Not only is (success in metro areas) filtering down, we're having our own success," he said. "We have multiple prospects looking at every one of our counties."
Where workers employed in the tri-county area that the CGEDA serves might surprise residents. While a majority, 50.4 percent, live in unincorporated areas,
Brewton is home to the most workers who live in one of the three county seats. And 8.4 percent live out of state, according to data from the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations. The 2003 figures were the latest available.
Escambia County is home the greatest share of workers among the tri-county area that also includes Monroe and Conecuh counties, with 28.7 percent of workers living in the county, according to the DIR.
The manufacturing sector has the greatest percentage of jobs in the tri-county area, with 32.9 percent of the workers. Retail trade and transportation and warehousing were second and third in share of workers.
Blankenship said retail growth is an indicator of economic growth, and he noted that Brewton, Atmore and Monroeville have all seen new stores open in recent months.
"It doesn't happen by chance," he said. "It happens with population increases and spending increases."