Unemployment rate jumps

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The city’s economic director sees a silver lining in the latest unemployment report for Suffolk, which at face value doesn’t seem like great news.

Preliminary U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that unemployment in Suffolk rose almost a full percentage in May over April.

It stood at 6.4 percent, slightly higher than the same month in 2013, and slightly better than 6.7 percent in May of 2012.

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“You can actually use these numbers to assist,” said Kevin Hughes, whose role involves fostering jobs growth by attracting new companies to Suffolk and encouraging those already here to expand.

To companies considering setting up here, according to Hughes, the numbers can be the basis of this argument: Suffolk has a large and available labor pool to draw from.

For the metropolitan statistical area Suffolk is a part of, which includes 15 other cities and counties in Virginia and North Carolina, the unemployment picture is somewhat better.

The bureau’s early figures suggest the rate was 5.8 percent for the area in May, up from 5.1 percent in April but down slightly from 6 percent in May 2012.

“It’s reminiscent of what we saw last year, for the most part,” Hughes said.

May is “always an interesting month,” he said, noting that 631 people were added to the labor pool in Suffolk.

Many new jobseekers are students looking for summer employment, he said, though “just generally speaking, we are still seeing a difficult economy for jobs.”

During the recession, companies learned to do more with less, Hughes said, and they remain reluctant to hire new staff.

Hughes also said companies are more cautious now, studying the scene closely before running job ads.

“We are continuing to see interest, but that interest is probably doing more due diligence and a longer timeframe of due diligence,” he said.

“They are really doing their homework, and they are doing as much to alleviate their risk.”

The city is seeing some activity from companies with 25 to 50-plus employees looking for new sites, according to Hughes.

Suffolk is currently on the short list of a handful of companies, he said, “and that could have some positive impact for us.”