Unemployment declining, assessed valuation up

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Jason E. Silvers/Tribune photo Fort Scott Director of Economic Development Heather Smith provides information on the local labor force and economic development projects with the Fort Scott City Commission on Tuesday.

Director of Economic Development Heather Smith shared some news regarding the local labor force and economic development with the Fort Scott City Commission on Tuesday.

Smith provided commissioners with some employment data obtained through the Kansas Department of Labor and an update on labor force numbers. Graphs provided showed an increase in the labor force and employment since 2012, and a decrease in unemployment and the unemployment rate since 2010. The graphs show labor force, employment and unemployment figures for Bourbon County in multiple time periods.

"Overall, Fort Scott is really rebounding from the recession well when it comes to unemployment," Smith said.

As of March 2016, labor force in the county is 7,395 with 7,045 people employed. Both of these areas are up from March 2015 -- 7,126 and 6,735, respectively that year. The number of unemployed is 350 with an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, both numbers down slightly from March 2015 figures of 391 and 5.5 percent.

According to DOL numbers provided, the assessed valuation in Fort Scott rose from $42.7 million in 2014 to $43.3 million in 2015 and has remained fairly stable since 2011. A five-year average shows the labor force up 389 people, Smith said.

Smith also provided some samples of economic development in the community throughout 2015 and 2016. Smith said several local employers have grown through expansion, adding jobs and making investments in their companies. As of January, five of the city's large employers have added 581 new jobs since 2010, Smith said.

Median wages in Bourbon County are up 12.2 percent since 2012. The median wage in 2015 was $13.87.

Smith also mentioned some local workforce development initiatives include a Career Exploration Mentor Program that recently completed its third year and had 12 participants, and National Manufacturing Day activities in October 2015.

Other areas of development and economic impact include the Fort Scott Industrial Park, the Fort Scott Municipal Airport, broadband ($1.5 million investment by local Internet providers in 2015), and the LaRoche Baseball Complex. Several downtown buildings and businesses, including the Lowell Milken Center, the Fort Scott National Historic Site and the former Western Building, have also shown developments, according to Smith.

Several construction projects are also completed or underway to enhance economic development. Some projects are the Riverfront Park, the USD 234 school bond projects, improvements on National Avenue, widening of U.S. Highway 69, and a project to construct a new jail facility.

Smith said there has been $10.2 million in recent commercial construction and $3.5 million in business expansions. About $14 million in construction is planned over the next two years.

"That's pretty impressive for a town of our size," she said.