2013-05-08 / Front Page

County outperforms region in job growth

By Michael Buettner

Despite having lost nearly twice as many jobs during the recession as previously thought, Chesterfield County is outpacing its regional peers in job growth and has rebounded above its pre-recession employment level.

Newly released figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 166,659 were employed in Chesterfield in March, up 1,043 from February and up 2,194 from March 2012.

The latest total was also 653 higher than the pre-recession peak in employment of 166,006 set in July 2008.

However, those figures reflect major revisions in the employment data going back to 2008 that show a very different picture from what was originally reported.

According to the new figures, the county lost 13,808 jobs between July 2008 and December 2009, almost twice as many as the 7,802 job losses previously reported.

On the plus side, however, Chesterfield has recaptured 14,461 jobs since the 2008 low, a 9.5 percent increase – well above the statewide figure of 6.1 percent and higher than any of its local peers except Henrico County, which posted a 9.8 percent increase over the same period.

By another reckoning, though, Chesterfield has outperformed even Henrico in long-term job creation.

As the chart shows (see page 22), employment in Chesterfield has increased by about 20 percent since 2000, topping all of its local peers. Not shown in the chart, the county’s performance also outpaced the increases posted by Virginia (about 15 percent) and the U.S. as a whole (about 6 percent) over the same period.

Two area localities, Hanover County and Richmond, have yet to regain their pre-recession employment levels, according to the revised numbers. That’s also true statewide.

Some of the county’s greater gains may be a result of local officials’ successes in luring big job-creating projects to the county, such as the distribution center in the Meadowville Technology Park and the Sabra Dipping food manufacturing center in Walthall.

Will Davis, director of the county Department of Economic Development, was reluctant to take direct credit for the strong performance. Instead, he said, businesses move here and stay here because “Chesterfield is a terrific community in which to live.”

Davis noted that “during the economic downturn, we didn’t have as much of a job loss as some other areas” because “our quality of life provides an environment that encourages companies to stay here and expand.”

Because the monthly employment numbers are based on place of residence, the Chesterfield totals include people who live in the county but work elsewhere. Davis said the positive figures for the county support the idea that “People enjoy living here and working throughout the region.” In addition, he noted, county residents represent the kind of workers that businesses want to employ.

As a result, he said, “Even in this economy, Chesterfield is very stable and growing.”

The new numbers show 8,911 people in Chesterfield were counted as unemployed and seeking work in March, down 707 from February and down 1,281 from the same month last year. The county’s unemployment rate in March was 5.1 percent, down from 5.5 percent in February and down from 5.8 percent in March 2012.

The latest figure was below the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates in March for Virgina, 5.2 percent, and the nation, 7.6 percent.

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