Unemployment rates drop around Valley

MERCED, Calif.

The latest numbers show Fresno County's jobless rate dipped to about thirteen percent in September. That's down one percent from August and two percent from the same time last year.

Every other Valley county also saw improvement.

Merced County still has the highest rate at fourteen point five percent, but that's also down more than a full percentage point from the previous month.

Analysts say agriculture and teaching jobs are a big part of the improvement in both Fresno and Merced Counties.

But local leaders tell me they are starting to see more businesses moving in as well.

Employees are busy working at the new Laird manufacturing plant in Merced. The company that sells cattle feeding equipment is expanding to this large facility near the airport and hiring more people. Local leaders say the move is part of a positive economic trend.

"We're seeing more small businesses open up and the manufacturing side is starting to pick up, plus we're getting more inquiries from food processors to manufacturers looking for opportunities to expand," Merced Director of Economic Development Frank Quintero said.

That includes the new White Oak Frozen Foods Plant that's set to open in a matter of months. The company expects to hire about 100 seasonal and 30 full time workers.

"Merced is really suited for food processing from a labor standpoint and also a product standpoint," Quintero said.

Other industries are also showing signs of improvement. The State Employment Development Department reports Merced County added 200 construction jobs in September. But the biggest gains came from 1200 farm jobs and 800 government jobs. Labor market analyst Pedro Vargas says most of those are teachers going back to class after the summer break but it all adds up to a noticeable drop in the unemployment rate.

"It hasn't been at this level since January 2008 so it's really good news for the area," EDD Labor Market Analyst Pedro Vargas said.

Vargas says Fresno County saw gains in similar areas, plus a boost in retail jobs.

"If retail stays up, that's another good sign of how the people are feeling out there in the community," Vargas said.

Despite the improvement, thousands of people are still out of work across the Valley and officials remain cautiously optimistic.

To keep the improvements in perspective, Merced County still has the third highest unemployment rate in the state.

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