By Boris Ladwig, The Republic

    Bartholomew County's unemployment rate jumped to a 17-year high in December as local businesses let go of employees to adjust to demand in a global recession. 

    The rate, at 6.5 percent, spiked 85 percent from a year earlier, when it was 3.5 percent. Indiana Department of Workforce Development released December figures on Tuesday. 

    The December rate last was eclipsed in June 1991, when it was 6.6 percent. Since then, the county's rate always had stayed below 6 percent, and as recently as 2007 had averaged less than 4 percent.

    Officials said the local struggles reflected global dynamics, and that the county, fortunately, is faring better than most. 

    Of the six counties bordering Bartholomew, only Johnson County recorded a lower unemployment rate in December: 6.2 percent. And only Johnson and Brown counties showed a smaller increase in the unemployment rate. 

    Bartholomew County had the 18th-lowest unemployment rate in December among Indiana's 92 counties. 

    Mayor Fred Armstrong said that although he foresees the economy to continue to deteriorate at least through summer, Columbus can better overcome the recession than most other areas. 

    People who lose their jobs in Columbus can take advantage of educational opportunities at facilities such as the Learning Center, and can count on thousands of jobs that will be available once the economy turns around, Armstrong said. 

    Corey Carr, president of the Columbus Economic Development Board, said his team is placing additional emphasis on making sure that local companies get all the help they need. 

    CEDB also is trying to link companies that are cutting jobs with those that still are hiring to reduce the time that workers lack jobs. 

    "We have to feel good that what we're doing is still working," Carr said. 

    CEDB also will continue its strategy to pursue foreign companies. Carr in spring again will travel to a trade show in Hanover, Germany, where, two years ago, he made first contact with China-based Techtop Industries, which has established a presence in Columbus. 

    Carr said, continued development in downtown Columbus, including the sports complex, Commons and hotels, has a "direct and marked impact on economic development.

Jennings hit hardest 

    Bartholomew and its six bordering counties recorded the same job market trends in December: All had significantly higher unemployment rates than a year earlier. All showed fewer people with jobs. All noted more people looking for jobs. 

    Jennings and Decatur counties showed the largest increases in the unemployment rate and the biggest decreases in the number of jobs. 

    Jennings County's unemployment rate more than doubled from December 2007 to 10.9 percent, the 12th-highest in the state, while Decatur's also more than doubled to 9.9 percent. 

    Both counties lost about 3.5 percent of their jobs in the last year. 

    "I think it will keep climbing," North Vernon Mayor Harold Campbell said. 

    However, he noted that small layoffs by local businesses appear to have subsided. 

    Every Monday morning Campbell's office gets visits from unemployed Jennings County residents hoping to pick the mayor's brain for a lead on a job. 

    Lately, Campbell has had little good news for them. 

    Campbell and Armstrong closely are watching for help from Washington, D.C. 

    "Everybody's kind of holding their breath to see what happens with this stimulus package," Campbell said. 

    A delayed tax rate, too is hampering North Vernon's job creation efforts as the city cannot yet finalize its budget, Campbell said. 

    The upcoming U.S. 50 bypass project could put many Jennings County job seekers to work, but the project is still a year or two away, Campbell said.

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