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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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State asks for revisions in calculating jobless rate

Thursday, August 15, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin staff writer

State economists have asked the U.S. Department of Labor to revise how unemployment rates — federal, state and local — are compiled, Martinsville City Council learned Tuesday.

Chris Pope, manager of the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) office in Martinsville, said that could help reduce the city’s unemployment rates, which generally have been the highest in the state for years.

Martinsville’s unemployment rate in June was 14 percent, VEC figures show.

Pope has managed the local office since December. He appeared before the council to introduce himself and discuss local unemployment issues.

The way the federal government requires jobless rates to be figured “does Martinsville a disservice,” Pope told council members.

In an interview on Wednesday, he said the local rate takes into account not only how many people are looking for jobs, but also census figures as well as historical data such as previous employment rates and job levels.

He said he does not know the exact formula. But under the current formula, he said, “when you’ve lost 20,000 manufacturing jobs” since around 1990, it “would be hard for Martinsville to get off the top” of the jobless rankings.

Pope declined to say how he personally would recommend that jobless rates be revised. He said he did not have the VEC’s permission to do that.

Councilman Danny Turner said he thinks using a revised methodology for determining unemployment rates could show Martinsville is worse off than thought due to unemployed people who have given up seeking jobs.

Pope said jobs are available both locally and regionally. He said that while there are about 200 local vacancies, there are about 2,200 in the Roanoke area that people living in Martinsville and Henry County possibly could fill.

“In many parts of the world,” he said, it is not unusual for people to commute 30 to 60 minutes to and from jobs.

Since April, the local VEC office has placed 211 people in jobs, according to figures that Pope provided the council.

But that does not necessarily mean that 211 local residents found work, he said, emphasizing that he did not know how many were locals.

Regardless of their locations, Pope said, local VEC offices are authorized to serve people living anywhere in the state. It is possible that the Martinsville office could have placed someone outside the community in a job, he said, although he did not know if that is the case.

He said the local VEC office is striving to better document how many local residents it places in jobs.

The office is in the Virginia Workforce Center on Commonwealth Boulevard in Martinsville. Due to its client load, Pope said, clients often have to wait up to 45 minutes to be served and that often frustrates them.

He said his goal is for waits to always be less than 30 minutes.

Among 685 surveys that clients voluntarily filled out since January, only 13 showed any type of dissatisfaction with VEC services, Pope said.

He acknowledged, though, that the office has seen frustrated clients leave without filling out a survey. He did not know exactly how many.

Pope invited dissatisfied VEC clients to call his direct line at 632-3023. He promised to return calls by the end of the day they are received.

The council also heard a report on recent activities of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

Lisa Lyle, the EDC’s marketing/recruitment director, said the organization is working on 12 active business/industry recruitment projects.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge requested that the EDC start giving the council information, such as how many local jobs have been created as a direct result of its work, to help show the return on the city’s investment.

Hodge mentioned that she already had made that request twice.

Gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. recently announced intentions of opening a plant in nearby Rockingham County, N.C., creating up to 500 jobs there. In response, Lyle said, the EDC contacted 54 gun makers to find out if they would be interested in coming to Martinsville-Henry County.

Lyle said, though, that only 10 of those companies responded and most said that if they ever become interested in coming to Virginia, they initially plan to work with state economic developers to identify potential locations.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague asked what industrial site selection consultants are saying about the Martinsville area.

Noting that “our activity has definitely picked up” recently, Lyle said that in terms of prominence among consultants, the area is “definitely on the map.”

“When we get them here (to visit), they’re definitely impressed,” she said.

Turner said he is concerned that the financial effects of changes in health insurance laws could be keeping businesses from expanding.

Mayor Kim Adkins said without those changes, she could not have afforded to start a consulting business she recently launched.

Turner and Adkins quickly ended their conversation when Teague told them they were getting into a political debate.

Also Tuesday, the council:

• Adopted on second reading, making it official, an ordinance ensuring that money from fees collected by the Martinsville Circuit Court Clerk’s office for processing passport applications will stay in the city.

That includes fees for photos and application mailing costs, the ordinance shows.

Although the state lets the clerk’s office process passport applications, it covers none of the expense. The city covers the cost.

• Presented a proclamation to Wigs Unlimited & Cottage Salon recognizing its involvement in the Hair 4-A Friend project.

More than $800 was raised during a “Zumbathon” on July 13 to defray the cost of wigs for female cancer victims who cannot afford them and whose insurance will not cover the cost, the proclamation shows.

Ella Mae Wickham, the store’s owner, said losing hair due to chemotherapy treatments seems to be “a lot more dramatic” for women than men.

• Appropriated $4,216 into the current fiscal year’s general fund budget.

The money is a reimbursement from Henry County for expenses pertaining to litter pickup from April to June. It will be used by the city sheriff’s office toward expenses such as part-time wages and vehicle maintenance costs, a document shows.

• Took no action after meeting with legal counsel in closed session.

However, Adkins announced immediately after the session that following arbitration, the city has been ordered to pay former city manager Clarence Monday $67,523.33 in accrued and unused vacation and sick leave.


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