By Burton Speakman
For the first time since March, the Mahoning Valley combined increased employment, shrinking unemployment and a growing labor force in October, all of which are signs of economic recovery.
The unemployment rate for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties combined dropped to 7.2 percent, according to Ohio Labor Market Information figures released Tuesday. There were 500 fewer people unemployed in the Valley, an increase of 1,300 jobs, and the local work force grew by 1,000.
Mahoning County at 6.6 percent had the lowest unemployment rate of the three counties, followed by Colum-biana at 7 percent and Trumbull at 7.8 percent.
Job growth was equal throughout the three counties. The increase in the labor force was the largest in Trumbull County at 400 workers.
The overall figures for the area are good, and the growth compared with 2011 shows the Valley is on an upward trend, said Tod Porter, professor of economics at Youngstown State University.
“The real litmus test is if employment is growing, and it is,” he said. “The market is up in all three categories [employment, unemployment and work force] and that’s as good as it gets.”
The number of people employed in the Mahoning Valley increased by 3,700 jobs going back to October 2011, according to labor market information.
“A few more months of this and we’ll be able to really chip away at the unemployment rate,” Porter said.
The only potential negative is that some of this new hiring is the result of seasonal employment, he said. Seasonal employment is typically nearly 1 percent higher in Octo- ber compared with the average month.
October is actually the month when seasonal hiring peaks, Porter said.
The area has seen indicators of growth for months through job orders at the local One-Stop offices, said Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association. Companies like V&M Star, Exterran and Valerus have announced hiring over the past few months.
“In the past, I’ve been cautiously optimistic, but this is validation that we have been and are moving in the right direction,” he said.
The Trumbull County One-Stop has seen solid activity in both permanent and seasonal hiring, said Benjamin Turner, director of the office.
“They’re not great gobs of jobs but they’re coming in small groups,” he said. “There’s not one company I can reference and state they’ve added 100 or 200 jobs.”
The primary areas of growth have been in distribution and manufacturing, Turner said. His expectation is continued hiring increases will be in small bunches from businesses expanding.
A number of companies remain cautious about their actions because of the looming fiscal cliff situation, he said.
“The ramifications of that situation are pretty severe,” Turner said.
The Youngstown/ Warren Regional Chamber reported October was the fifth time in the past nine months that the unemployment rate was lower than the national average for the Youngstown- Warren-Boardman Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Mercer counties.
“It was good to see the jobless rate decline in all area counties last month, and I am encouraged that our local rate remains well below the national average,” said Tom Humphries, Regional Chamber president & CEO, in a statement.
“As we know, over the last 30 years, the metro area nearly always topped the national average in joblessness. It’s good to consistently be on the other side of the line,” he said.