By David Howell
This year will certainly go down as shaky economic times, at best, as the stock market plunged, banks failed, car sales dropped, the government entered the bailout businesses on a massive scale and millions of jobs were cut across the country.
In the Herald’s pages, the news did reveal slower economic times, but the bad news was tempered with several bright spots.
In January the Herald reported that Yalobusha County’s unemployment rate was the lowest it has been during the month of January in the past five years. That figure of 7.7 percent was almost a point and a half lower that the January 2007 figure of 9.1 percent.
In the spring, the county’s fledgling economic district was gearing up to compete in the global market for job recruitment and work with existing companies to help job retention. Bob Tyler was hired in late 2007 to head up this monumental task of job creation, coupled with bringing unity to factions across the county.
By mid-year, it was becoming evident that a recession was touching the county. With gas priced at nearly $4 a gallon, food prices were on the rise and reduction in U.S. auto sales, including hefty declines by GM and Ford, were materializing.
May’s unemployment for the county was a up a percent from a year earlier.
In June 40 employees were laid off from the county’s largest employer, BorgWarner Air/Fluid Systems. “It is related to recent announcements of volume reductions from our prime customers, then plant manager Bill Liacone explained, pointing to the automobile market.
Another important economic factor, sales tax, shows flat retail sales growth at the end of the state’s fiscal year, June 30. Water Valley and Coffeeville each show less than one percent growth in 2006-2007, compared to the previous year.
The job market continues to be tight as June’s unemployment increases a percent over the previous month. August and September unemployment decrease slightly from May and June, but still are higher than they were a year earlier.
Yalobusha County Tax Collector/Assessor Linda Shuffield presented the 2008 tax rolls to supervisors in July 7 that showed that the total assessed value of the county increased only two percent during the last year. The total assessed value for Yalobusha was $71,053,201.
A bright spot of news appears in August after the long anticipated hiring begins at Windsor Foods for their new plant in Oakland. Operations are expected to begin in November with on-the-job training. The initial hiring of 200 will outfit the first two lines at the food processing plant.
In Water Valley the poultry plant began its second year of operation in September, processing an average of 55,000 chickens a day.
Water Valley Poultry, LLC began operation Sept 14 of last year with only 6,800 hens the first day. The company employed about 130 at the time. “We’re at a 155 right now,” said Phillip Tallant, plant manager, told the Herald in September.
The unemployment rate in Yalobusha for October nudges close to double-digits at 9.7 percent – the highest for the month in five years, according to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Windsor kicked off operations on November 17, and the Oakland-based factory provides viable jobs after a botched first attempt when Mississippi Beef Processors LLC operated for three months in 2004 in the same facility.
More bad news comes in late November as 39 additional employees are laid off at BorgWarner, bringing the total work force to 349.
Hans Werner, the plant’s new manager, does put to rest rumors that the facility will close.
“I am not here in America for a year just to volunteer to close a plant down. That’s not something I want to see in my records,” Werner said.
“I am here to fix this place and lead it through the crisis. That’s what it is all about,” he added. “I am here to work with a very strong team to get this team stronger based on the strengths they have already.”
The crisis to which he refers is the worldwide economic slump that has further impacted an already declining North American auto industry.
Although modest, Yalobusha municipalities each recorded a tax collection increase during the first four months of the current fiscal year that began July 1, according to figures released by the Mississippi State Tax Commission on Dec. 11. Water Valley recorded the largest percent increase, at 10 percent, Coffeeville recorded a five percent increase, and Oakland reported four percent.