BY GLENN PUIT
— TRAVERSE CITY — Kalkaska County’s unemployment rate for October fell to 8.8 percent, a stark improvement from just a few years ago.
“Kalkaska County’s numbers are very strong considering history,” said Doug Luciani, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. “It wasn’t very long ago Kalkaska County was at 12 percent, even 14 percent unemployment.
“If you went to Kalkaska four years ago and said, ‘Your unemployment rate will be at 8.8 percent, take it or leave it,’ they would take it,” Luciani said. “The trend line for Kalkaska is headed the right way … and there are some good jobs there.”
Luciani, who helps work on economic development strategy in Kalkaska with county leaders, attributed improving job numbers in Kalkaska to growth in the oil and gas industries. Manufacturers that survived the Great Recession also are stronger in the county, and many are now hiring skilled workers.
Leelanau County had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state for October at 6.1 percent, according to the new statistics released by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and budget. Grand Traverse County is at 7.3 percent unemployment, followed by Benzie County at 9 percent and Antrim County at 10.2 percent.
The entire 10-county region of northwest Lower Michigan, stretching from Emmet to Manistee counties, saw a jump in unemployment from 7.7 percent in October 2012 to 9 percent in October 2013. Part of the reason for the spike is an increase in the number of new people entering the job market.
“There’s been a major difference in the labor force itself,” said Sara Christensen, an economic development specialist at the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance. “There are just more people out there in the labor force than there were this time last year.”