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At a glance
A snapshot of economic indicators in Indiana:
•2nd nationally in manufacturing growth in February – 3,400 jobs
•2nd nationally in employment growth since July 2009 – 15.1 percent
Over the past year:
•2nd nationally in manufacturing jobs added – 15,900 jobs
•Trade, transportation and utilities grew 2.7 percent (15,000 jobs), compared with 1.8 percent nationally
•Leisure and hospitality grew 3.2 percent (9,100 jobs), compared with 2.4 percent nationally
Source: Indiana Department of Workforce Development
Paul Wyche | The Journal Gazette
Stephanie Essex, left, information specialist at VisitFortWayne, helps Rachelle Litzenberg of Fort Wayne on Tuesday. Tourism is a growing sector of the state’s economy.

Hope behind high jobless rate

February figure belies Indiana’s steady job growth

State officials say it’s time to put Indiana’s slow recovery into perspective.

No one would claim an economic turnaround is complete. In fact, Gov. Mike Pence and Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Scott Sanders agree the state’s 8.7 percent unemployment rate for February is a disappointment.

But there’s no need to feel glum, they say. Among the reasons for optimism are the steady gains the state, and metro Fort Wayne, continue to make.

Workforce Development spokesman Joe Frank points out that although Hoosier unemployment rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted 8.7 percent in February from 8.6 percent in January, “we have had job growth 38 of the past 42 months.”

“Unemployment is still too high, … but we are moving in the right direction,” he said this week.

The Department of Workforce Development said Indiana added 22,000 job seekers in January and February combined – the largest two-month boost in nearly 20 years.

“That’s a reason for the higher unemployment in February,” he said.

The portion of those without work in metropolitan Fort Wayne fell to 8.9 percent in February, compared with January’s 9.1 percent. Metro Fort Wayne is composed of Allen, Whitley and Wells counties.

Other factors that should keep Indiana’s chin up are its second-place ranking nationally in manufacturing growth in February, the Department of Workforce Development said. “Since the low point of unemployment in July 2009,” more private-sector jobs on average have been added in the state than the rest of the country.

Indiana created 188,500 positions, an 8.1 percent increase, compared with 5.1 percent nationally.

PNC Bank released its spring survey of small and mid-sized Indiana business owners. The poll of 151 companies showed a slight improvement in business expectations compared with last fall, when fiscal cliff and presidential election uncertainty existed.

Even so, just 15 percent of business owners said they were optimistic about their own company over the next six months. And 35 percent said they would hold off on hiring. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.

When the Department of Workforce Development released figures this week highlighting the state’s momentum, leisure and hospitality was mentioned as one of the top job growth sectors over the past year.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of VisitFortWayne, the area’s tourism organization. “We contribute $42.5 million to the state in taxes. Locally, tourism’s economic impact is $13.6 million. That’s pretty good for a town our size.”

Dawn Gallaway, business development manager for Keller Development, said she remains optimistic. The company filed plans last month to invest $3 million in a 30-unit duplex community at South Hanna Street near Tillman Road.

Kayla Court would have two-bedroom units, with most appliances and one-car garages. Rent would start at $699 a month. Construction could begin next month.

“We believe in the housing market in Fort Wayne,” Gallaway said. “We just stick to what we know and grow at a steady pace. We usually have one to three projects a year. It works for us.”

And while construction positions are sometimes seen as transient, Gallaway said the 100 to 150 hard-hat jobs that Keller’s developments require are ongoing “because we have projects throughout the year.”

Meijer Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., also is growing in northeast Indiana. Meijer plans to open a $15 million supercenter in June in Warsaw. The store will employ 250 full- and part-time workers.

“Indiana is becoming an even more important state for us,” spokesman Frank Guglielmi said.

The retailer runs 199 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. It has 28 locations in Indiana.

“It’s our third-biggest state, and we’ve had great success in Fort Wayne and have been very well received in rural communities where they’re underserved.”