Unemployment in the Harrisonburg metro area dropped to 2.3% in September, the lowest rate so far in 2019, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday.
Approximately 250 Harrisonburg metro residents were removed from the unemployed data category, but that does not mean all those people found work, said Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
The drop in unemployment “sounds more like students” returning to school, he said. “Or transient workers heading South before the weather gets too cold.”
But there were some major economic investments that played a role in reducing unemployment as well, Tamberrino said.
Both Merck and InterChange Group started hiring around September to fill new jobs created by local expansions, he said.
Merck, with a $1 billion investment in its Elkton plant, is slated to create nearly 100 jobs over three years, while InterChange’s new $42 million facility in Mount Crawford will add 88 employees to the company’s payroll.
The employed population in the city and county grew from 64,023 to 66,416 between August and September, or 3.7%.
This increase is typical of the August-September time frame, according to past data, though September’s jump was smaller than in the previous two years.
In 2017, employment jumped by over 3,000 in the same period — from 61,097 to 64,193, or roughly 5%.
A year later, in 2018, employment jumped 4.7% from 61,307 in August to 64,225 in September, also more than 3,000.
Regardless of the causes, Tamberrino said the Harrisonburg metro area is “heading in a good direction.”
Nationally, September’s unemployment rate of 3.5% broke a 50-year record. The national rate is adjusted to account for seasonal changes, while local rates are not.
In October, U.S. unemployment reached 3.6% after the economy added 128,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The commonwealth has also seen the trend of lower and lower unemployment rates, dropping to 2.7% in September.
The last time unemployment was regularly under 2.8% in Virginia was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, bottoming out at 2.1% in October and November 2000.
The Harrisonburg metro area was not the only locality in the area to see near-record levels of unemployment in recent months.
Page County almost broke a 20-year unemployment record in September as its rate reached 2.7% — the lowest since July 2001.
In August, 3% of Page residents were looking for work, a slight reduction from the 3.1% of people looking for work in September 2018.
The unemployment rates Rockingham County and Shenandoah County have drifted apart after matching for the past six months.
In September, Rockingham’s unemployment was 2%, and while Shenandoah County’s was 2.2% after matching at 2.4% in August.
In September 2018, Rockingham had a 2% jobless rate, while Shenandoah County had a 2.6% rate.
Harrisonburg’s unemployment dropped from 3.3% in August to 2.8% in September. In September 2018, the unemployment rate was 3.2%
Augusta County’s unemployment rate in September 2018 and August 2019 was the same at 2.4%.
In September 2019, the rate had dropped to 2%, matching Rockingham County.