Report: Local job market rebounding

The region's jobs picture appears to be brightening, according to an economic analysis released by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board.

John Beauregard, executive director of the Franklin-based agency that operates the region's four CTWorks career centers, said Friday that the Norwich-New London labor market likely bottomed out in May and has been on its way up ever since, adding 600 positions in the past five months.

"It's taking a step in the right direction," Beauregard said in a phone interview.

In a report produced in collaboration with Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist of New Haven-based DataCore Partners LLC, the workforce board declared this week that the region's five-year jobs slide, which continued long after the Great Recession of 2008-2009 was over, finally has reached an end, barring unforeseen major downsizings among large local employers.

The region, hit over the past few years by significant layoffs in key sectors of the economy such as gaming and pharmaceuticals, should slowly begin to return to job-growth normalcy, the report said, with an expected gain of 500 positions next year.

"May 2013 finally marked the trough for job erosion in the Norwich-New London labor market area," Klepper-Smith said in the report. "Clearly, the indicators are pointing to Norwich-New London finally being at or close to a firm bottom and ready to move upward again."

It's a trough that saw the Norwich-New London area lose more than 12,000 jobs as the region's unemployment rate more than doubled. Between April 2007, when the region's casinos were riding high, and January 2011, when Pfizer Inc. was in the midst of a severe downsizing, the jobless rate rose from 3.9 percent to 9.8 percent in the Norwich-New London labor market that includes Westerly.

In August, the latest month for which figures were available because of delays related to October's government shutdown, the unemployment rate in the region was a more manageable 8.1 percent, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.

"I think what we're seeing is the accumulation of numerous under-the-radar types of activity in the labor market," Beauregard said in the report. "As long as this positive activity is not unraveled by large-block layoffs such as those the region experienced over the last two and a half years, I think we'll start to see sustained job increases once again."

Beauregard referred to major layoffs and job attrition at Pfizer, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino over the past few years, as well as some roller coaster numbers at Electric Boat. The casinos have shed about 5,000 jobs in the past few years, while Pfizer has eliminated more than 2,500 positions, which doesn't include hundreds of contractors who have lost regular paychecks in the region as the pharmaceutical giant outsourced more of its work.

"There's no doubt that the larger layoff amount that New London County experienced provided a lingering effect on regional job figures," Beauregard said. "The primary problem is the fact that there's little to counterbalance the large layoffs with, since remaining employers tend to make do with their existing workforce during uncertain times."

Despite projections from DataCore Partners showing the region's jobs numbers edging up over the past five months, economists are still expecting an overall loss of 1,500 jobs in the region during 2013. The losses, frontloaded in January through May, have given the Norwich-New London area the dubious distinction of being the worst-performing labor market in the state so far this year.

A year ago, the region also was listed as among the bottom 10 in the nation in terms of job recoveries after the recession.

By contrast, the Willimantic-Danielson labor market, which the local workforce board also tracks, has seen job gains of 1.1 percent so far this year — slightly better than the state's overall performance. But Beauregard pointed out that the northeastern part of the state had a longer way to go, having lost 11 percent of its workforce compared with 9 percent for New London County.

Among the region's strengths so far this year, according to the report, has been a 19 percent rise in new-housing units in New London, Norwich, Groton, Ledyard, Windham and Stonington. New London County single-family home sales are also showing strength, up 2 percent on the year, while prices have been relatively flat, according to the report.

The report added that most of the major impacts from layoffs at Pfizer have been accounted for, and that proactive workforce-development and economic development efforts have helped ensure that "a turning point in the local economy is at hand."

Gene Harper, human resources manager at EB and board chairman of the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, said the jobs agency and its partners helped thousands of local workers update their skills and change career paths since the economic upheaval of the Great Recession.

"A more competitive workforce will help accelerate any anticipated job growth in 2014 and beyond," Harper said in the report.

l.howard@theday.com

Norwich-New London labor force, 2000-2012
YearJobsJobless rate
2000128,1002.2%
2001130,8002.8%
2002133,8003.9%
2003134,0004.9%
2004134,0004.5%
2005135,7004.5%
2006135,7004.2%
2007136,3004.3%
2008136,8005.4%
2009131,6007.7%
2010129,6008.9%
2011129,0008.7%
2012128,0008.5%
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Labor

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