Recent reports suggest better days for area

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, June 3, 2012

Polls and other data may suggest rising concerns nationally about the state of the economy, but recent reports here point to a brighter picture in the Southwest Mississippi area.

     The April unemployment report showed Lincoln County with a jobless rate of 8.1 percent. That was two-tenths of a point below the state average and tied Lincoln with Adams County for the lowest rate in Southwest Mississippi.

     Lincoln County still trailed the national average for the month by about half a point, but the April rates are welcome news when compared to the more than 10 percent numbers not long ago.

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     Local economic development officials are predicting a small jobless rate upturn in the months ahead as school-related work and students out for the summer tend to swell the numbers. Still, climbing from a lower point is a welcome alternative to watching high jobless rates go even higher.

     Friday’s unemployment news followed even better news on the sales tax front earlier in the week.

     In the April 2012 report, Brookhaven enjoyed an approximately $13,000 increase in collections over the same month in 2011. The $465,261 the city received this April ranked it 24th overall in the state.

     Since July, Brookhaven is running about $60,000 ahead of its pace last year by taking in just over $4.2 million.  That represents about 1.4 percent growth, which percentage-wise is virtually the same as neighboring McComb and not far behind Natchez’s 1.6 percent growth.

     The important aspect about the April sales tax totals, which represent sales made in March, is that the robust numbers were somewhat unexpected.

     “Big ticket sales were strong in the early part of the month,” said chamber of commerce Executive Director Cliff Brumfield, who also acknowledged a retail trail-off toward the end of March.

     One possible reason for the local boost was higher gasoline prices directly or indirectly keeping shoppers closer to home. Seeing the ticker pass $50 while filling up the gas tank could give many people reason to question a need to travel very far.

     Lately, however, fuel prices have begun to dip a little, and Brumfield believes that has led to increased consumer confidence. He did, however, indicate some concern that tax numbers could go down in the short term before rising again in the summer.

     Although gas prices may be down and families are eager for summer excursions, we would all do well to remember to shop at home whenever possible. Doing so will help keep sales tax dollars at home, enable more friends and neighbors to stay employed, and provide more positive reports to let us hope that brighter days are here to stay.