GREENFIELD — Skip Kuker knows how well the economy is doing by how often the phone rings.
As executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, Kuker is charged with talking to and working with businesses looking to locate to Hancock County or expand in the area. His office is busier now than it’s been in years, he said, and that’s a good sign.
At 3.7 percent, Hancock County’s August unemployment rate was the lowest it’s been in more than seven years, a trend echoed on the state level.
Local business growth and a low unemployment rate tell Kuker the economy is doing pretty well; it’s bouncing back after the recession hit it hard.
At the bottom of the recession, in February 2010, Hancock County’s unemployment rate hit a high of 10.5 percent. It’s been shrinking since. Five years ago, most businesses were playing it safe, not looking to expand or open up new facilities, Kuker said. Many were forced to lay workers off, and they certainly weren’t creating jobs.
Now, that’s changing, as businesses across the county and state create jobs.
For example, this year, Stanley Black & Decker announced plans to expand its Greenfield operations, a move that is expected to create 130 jobs. Across the county in Mt. Comfort, Stanley Access Technologies, an automatic door manufacturer that is part of the Stanley Black & Decker network, announced it was eyeing the county as a site for a facility that would create 64 jobs.
Currently, Kuker is working on a project — details of which have not been disclosed — that could create 85 jobs.
“Things are really active in what we’re doing over here,” Kuker said. “That’s a really good thing.”
The unemployment rate is significantly better than it was during the same time last year. In August, there were 36,369 employed workers in the community; fewer than 1,500 were jobless. During the same time last year, 1,876 were without jobs, when the rate was at 5.1 percent.
The most recent the unemployment rate was at 3.7 percent or below was in December 2007.
Additionally, Hancock’s unemployment rate is better than Shelby, Rush, Henry, Madison and Marion counties, and Kuker said that’s probably because the county has great transportation corridors in Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 and State Road 9. The county is able to attract workers from other areas because the commute is easy, he said.
“You can pull those folks into your working area, and we’re able to tap into that,” he said.
Retta Livengood, director of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said she hears mixed reviews about how well local businesses are doing. She continues to hear that business is improving but also hears employers have a hard time finding qualified workers.
As the unemployment rate shrinks, that tends to be a trend, Kuker said. With fewer folks seeking jobs, businesses have a smaller pool to choose from.
Still, Livengood is encouraged by business growth in the community.
“It seems to me that a lot of the people who are members of our chamber seem to be on a wonderful road of recovery or continued progress and momentum,” she said. “It’s a positive thing to see new businesses open up … which is always a good sign of the economy.”
At 4.6 percent, Indiana’s unemployment rate in August was the lowest it’s been in at least seven years.
More than 3.1 million Hoosiers were employed in August, compared with about 3 million in August 2014. In August, about 145,300 Hoosiers were unemployed, compared with 193,800 last year, according to numbers released this week by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
During the past year, the state has added more than 60,000 private sector jobs, and the Hoosier state’s unemployment rate continues to beat the national average of 5.1 percent, Gov. Mike Pence said in a news release.
“Indiana’s labor force participation rate continues to outpace the national average even as unemployment decreases, indicating that Hoosiers continue to be encouraged by our growing economy,” he said.