Unemployment rate keeps dropping in Prince Edward, Buckingham

Published 12:24 am Monday, June 10, 2024

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The numbers keep dropping and in this case, that’s a good thing. Based on the data released last week, we’re starting to see the unemployment rate drop in both Buckingham and Prince Edward counties, along with other areas in the region. It’s one of several positive trends to be pulled from the latest figures. 

The unemployment rate dropped in all area counties during April 2024, even as some continue to run slightly above the statewide numbers in Virginia. The Virginia Employment Commission’s Estimated Labor Force Components released their latest report last week, showing that all counties in this region are well below the national unemployment rate of 3.5% for April, the latest data available.

Neighboring Lunenburg and Charlotte counties had the lowest rates in the region at 2.6% for April. For Charlotte County, that is down from its 2.7% unemployment rate in March, while Lunenburg was down from 3.2% in March.

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Buckingham County’s rate came in at 2.9% for April, down from 3.5% in March. Prince Edward County’s April unemployment rate is 3%, down from 3.5% in March.

All four counties also came in with a lower rate when compared to April 2023. Charlotte and Lunenburg counties had a 2.7% rate last April, while Buckingham was at 3% and Prince Edward at 3.1%.

The unemployment rate for Virginia was 2.3% for April, down from 2.4% in March and in April 2023. Virginia’s unemployment rate was 2.3% for April, down from 2.4% in March, according to the VEC report.

Consumers are confident  

If one drills into the numbers, Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said it shows nine jobs added in April and the number of unemployed individuals dropped by 57 over the previous month. 

The VEC report shows there were 10,009 employed in the county during April, up from 10,000 in March. Over that same period, the number of unemployed was 239 in March and dropped to 192 in April. 

“While these are not significant gains, I believe they are reflective of our rather strong local economy,” Stanley said. “I would add that consumers are still confident, and I have seen a statistic that confidence actually rose in May.”

This Conference Board report, published at conference-board.org, shows national consumer confidence rose in May to 102 from 97.5 in April, the first increase after three months of declines. The organization’s Chief Economist, Dana M. Peterson, credited the strong labor market for the increase in consumer confidence.

Locally, Stanley noted that with four new businesses under construction and Longwood and Hampden-Sydney expect positive enrollment gains at both, as reported by their respective presidents at the May 14 board of supervisors meeting, the short-term outlook for the community looks very positive.  

“Our Economic Development staff and Industrial Development Authority continue marketing the Industrial Park as a destination,” Stanley said. “We have two existing buildings available for lease in the former SMI Steel and Weavexx facilities, and are working with our consultant to target market the HIT (Heartland Innovative Technology) Park to data center users.”

He said the recent announcement by the Tobacco Commission to fund access improvements to the HIT Park will only help us in this marketing effort.  

“Overall, there is a lot to be positive about, and the board and county staff will continue to work hard to promote Prince Edward County as a great business location,” Stanley said.

Unemployment rate drops, with options open

Buckingham County had one of the largest declines among local counties with its unemployment rate down by .6% from March to April.

“Well I don’t think anyone is pleased with the unemployment rate because what it represents but we definitely want to keep that number as low as possible,” County Administrator Karl Carter said. “Our prisons and school systems definitely play a role on the unemployment rate as they are our two largest employers.”

Buckingham saw the number of people employed decline from 6,547 in March to 6,533 in April, while the number of individuals unemployed was down to 192 in April from 239 in March.

“It has always been the board’s position that we would rather have five long lasting jobs than 20 high paying jobs that may be gone in five to 10 years,” Carter explained. “We continue to not only look for opportunities here in our county but we also have been looking to partner with surrounding counties in our region.”

He noted that they all would like the opportunity for it to happen in Buckingham County.

“But a short commute to a neighboring county will also give people the opportunity to provide for their family,” he said.

Breaking down Charlotte’s numbers

Charlotte County’s unemployment numbers are headed in the right direction. County Administrator Dan Witt said.  

“A 2.6% rate in April tells me that if a person wants to work, they have likely found work,” Witt said. “There are summer jobs in grass mowing and landscaping that have likely helped with lowering the rate.”

The VEC report shows that the number of people employed in the county declined rom 5,117 in March to 5,083 in April. But the number of people unemployed dropped from 143 in March to 136 in April.

He said construction of several solar sites may help soon, and installation of broadband throughout the county could be contributing factors.

“The sale of the Westpoint Stevens building in Drakes Branch and the opening of a new restaurant supply  business has also added jobs,” Witt noted.

What’s Lunenburg’s unemployment rate look like?

County Administrator Tracy Gee said she is not sure what sector of employment brought the .6% decline in the rate there that came in at 2.6%.

“Any reduction in unemployment is positive news,” Gee said.

Lunenburg’s number of employed rose from 5,205 in March to 5,250 in April, while the number of unemployed dropped from 171 in March to 141 in April, according to the VEC report.

Gee said she’s not aware of any major employer changes or openings.

“We had a brief closure of a local grocery store in Kenbridge that recently reopened in May by new owners, which may affect their local numbers in May 2024,” she said.