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Area jobless rates edge upward in July

Lee only county in region to show improvement

While the Illinois unemployment rate dropped for a fifth consecutive month in July, the same could not be said for the Sauk Valley area.

The seasonally adjusted rate statewide dipped to 6.8 percent last month, compared to 7.1 percent in June and 9.2 percent in July 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

In the region, Lee was the only county to show improvement from June to July, and that was only by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 7.3 percent.

The jobless rate in Bureau County increased from 7.4 percent to 8.3 percent, the most significant increase among the area’s five counties.

Economic development leaders in Bureau said they knew of no particular situations or trends that could easily explain the increase.

“I’m not aware of a large number of layoffs anywhere,” said Debb Ladgenski, economic development director for Spring Valley. “Wal-Mart Distribution Center is our largest employer here, and this isn’t their season to really gear up.”

Some big construction projects could soon come into play. A $17 million elementary school will open soon in Spring Valley, while a $32 million high school will be finished for the 2015-16 school year. A large renovation project also is in the works at St. Margaret’s Hospital.

“We have a number of manufacturing employers in Princeton, but I don’t know of any that are laying off a significant number of workers,” said Joni Hunt, director of tourism and marketing in Princeton.

The most likely scenario is several small catalysts that, in concert, moved the jobless needle upward, Hunt said.

“It might just be a few small things – a few manufacturing layoffs, and a bit of a slowdown in agribusiness,” Hunt said.

IDES spokesman Greg Rivara said a mix of smaller events is likely to blame.

“Working conditions in the summer months don’t vary much, so if there is significant movement month to month, it is likely tied to specific events,” he said. “There have been some layoffs related to manufacturing suppliers, and some big construction jobs could be ending.”

Statewide in July, the professional and business services sector was the biggest gainer, picking up 5,900 jobs, followed by an addition of 3,900 jobs in manufacturing.

In a rather odd development, the only sector that lost jobs in July was leisure and hospitality, showing a reduction of 3,800 jobs.

“I’m not really sure how to explain that in July,” Rivara said. “I know tourism has been really strong in Chicago this summer, and that accounts for much of the sector activity in Illinois.”

Unemployment increases in Whiteside, Ogle and Carroll counties were not as pronounced as in Bureau.

In Whiteside County, the jobless rate climbed from 7.5 percent to 7.9 percent, still much improved from the July 2013 rate of 10 percent. Ogle and Carroll counties both saw unemployment rise about half a percentage point. Ogle moved from 7.9 percent to 8.4 percent in July, while Carroll saw an increase from 6.9 percent to 7.2 percent.

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