David Kennard – Executive Editor
LUMBERTON — Third quarter industry sector reports won’t be available until February, but data provided in November provides a glimpse of what kinds of jobs make up Robeson County’s diverse economy, and where the jobs may be headed into the new year.
Five industry sectors comprise the bulk of jobs employing a slow but steadily growing labor pool locally, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
The Health Care, 18.6%; Manufacturing, 18.5%; Retail Trade, 13.3%; Education, 12.1%; and Hotel-Food Service, 8.9% sectors round out a large majority of jobs employing the county’s workers.
The Public Administration industry sector just missed making it into the top five with 7.2% of the jobs.
Additionally, the top two sectors, Health Care and Manufacturing, show a difference of just 55 jobs, according to the state data.
The county, historically ranked among the state’s poorest, has seen some revitalization in recent months as new and existing employers have helped grow the job base.
During the first eight months of 2021, the county’s labor force average was 49,851, up from 49,556 during the same period in 2020, according to data obtained by The Robosonian from the state Department of Commerce.
Closely watching available jobs — and the workers to fill them — is the Robeson County Office of Economic Development, which works to promote economic growth of new and existing industries in the county.
The Office of Economic Development provides a glimpse into the diversity of manufacturing jobs locally. On its website, the office lists a handful of companies and the jobs they provide, from a cleaning products manufacturer, with 400 employees to an aluminum fencing producer with 25 employees. A simple internet search turned up more manufacturers of varying sizes.
Beyond an available workforce, Robeson County touts location and other factors that might be attractive to manufacturers and other employers.
“Most East Coast destinations are within a day’s trucking distance from Robeson County. And a full 70% of U.S. and Canadian markets (and 170 million consumers) can be reached overnight. Southeastern North Carolina is also a crossroads for rail service, and a major deep water port is 60 miles to the east. With a full complement of transportation resources, plus abundant water and waste capacities and affordable utility services, Robeson County is ‘move in’ ready for your business.”
Related to the industry sector report is the local unemployment rate, which also has shown a steady decline throughout the last year. Topping out at 13.2 percent in May 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the jobless rate declined to just 6 percent in October.
Considering the trend of the last few months, Robeson County’s November jobless rate is likely going to show continued improvement when results are released on Dec. 30.
As expected, the national and statewide jobless rate has followed that same downward trend.
The State Department of Commerce posted November’s data on Friday, showing a drop from 4.1 percent in October to 3.9 percent in November. Nationally, during that same period, the unemployment rate went from 4.6 percent to 4.2 percent.
During a normal, non-COVID environment, most economists consider anything less than 4 percent as full employment. However, unemployment rates measure the percentage of the workforce seeking employment. So when workers drop out of the labor pool, the jobless rate shows a decline, considering all other variables remain steady.
National news reports have suggested that high levels of workers around the nation have left the workforce, which skews the unemployment rate.
North Carolina industries showing the greatest employment gains over the last month were the Professional & Business Services sector, Leisure & Hospitality Services sector, Manufacturing sector and Education & Health Services sector, according to the Department of Commerce.