The job market in Fulton County briefly took a hit last year as COVID-19 began to rage, but the coronavirus’s impact on local employment proved not to last as long or hurt as badly as that of the recession in 2008.
In fact, fewer people in the county were unemployed as of December than had been prior to COVID’s debut one year ago, according to Matt Gilroy, executive director of the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC). And while area entrepreneurship has generally declined across the nation over the past generation, construction projects are actually booming locally.
“Fulton County is blessed with many assets that businesses seek when choosing a location and we expect that opportunities for business development will continue to exist over time,” Gilroy said. Outside of the pandemic, over the past four years the local unemployment rate has bounced between 3.7% and 4.5% – an area considered full employment by economists, he said. The job market was brisk enough that both the FCEDC and OhioMeansJobs fretted with area employers that not enough people were available to fill positions.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate dived last April in a pattern similar to what occurred in September of 2008, an economic crisis that required years of recovery. Back then, the local manufacturing industry took a negative turn, including all of those relying on the automotive industry. But since then a number of manufacturing businesses diversified their customer portfolios to prevent the same crisis from reoccurring.
Even as it was blindsided by the coronavirus, however, the area job market recovered more quickly in 2020 than during the former recession, Gilroy said.
“Throughout the pandemic, the FCEDC, Fulton County, and our partners have been collaborating on several projects that have the potential of transpiring in 2021 and future years,” he said. “More importantly, many businesses already located in the county have an interest in making investments based on the amount of work they have available to them. The projections that many businesses in manufacturing and construction in the county are sharing for the near-term future are encouraging.”
Announcements concerning some of the projects may be made in coming months.
Presently, construction projects are moving ahead at North Star BlueScope Steel and Nova Steel in Delta, and for Area 419 Firearms in Swancreek Township. Gilroy said an expansion project at ConAgra Foods is close to completion.
Unless a major national or global economic downturn occurs, the FCEDC has projected a continued 4% unemployment over the next five years. Young people will gain the chance for promotion as baby boomers retire, and the FCEDC has expressed confidence that new businesses will locate to Fulton County.
“Fulton County is blessed with terrific transportation infrastructure, excess capacities in our utilities systems, and our cost-of-living compared to metropolitan areas, especially those on the coasts,” Gilroy said. He said North Star Bluescope Steel is attracting related metal and steel businesses. Additionally, the county is fortunate to have garage door manufacturers and enticing prospects in agriculture and agribusiness.
There are still concerns, including the fact that entrepreneurship has declined over the past generation. Gilroy said that can be remedied with access to capital for start-up companies and the easing of healthcare insurance constraints.
“Policymakers at the state and federal levels should work to do more to support and encourage entrepreneurship in rural communities, especially in technology industries,” he said.
A decline in local population is also worrisome. Gilroy said that might be allayed with the construction of housing developments that would attract more residents and workers, and showing local young people the benefits of remaining in Fulton County and northwest Ohio.
“Keeping young talent here will be very beneficial over the long term; unfortunately, this has been quite a challenge for rural communities across the United States over the past generation,” he said. “As we look past the pandemic, promoting the benefits of living in a small community where your neighbors care about you and your family’s well-being will hopefully be attractive for people currently living here and elsewhere.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.