Top 10 Stories from 2021: The economy improves in 2021 but signs still show some way to go | Local news

Editor’s note: The Daily Advance’s countdown to the 10 best local stories of 2021 continues. Today’s story is # 4.

While there were signs that the region’s economy was improving in 2021, there were also lingering signs – including, literally, ubiquitous signs seeking employment assistance – that ‘A full recovery from the 2020 pandemic shutdowns remains a work in progress.

Unemployment in the five-county area fell nearly 2% in 2021. According to data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, just over 1,670 workers in five counties in the region – Pasquotank, Camden, Chowan , Currituck and Perquimans – filed for unemployment benefits in October, the last month for which county-wide unemployment data for North Carolina was available.

More than 45,600 workers were employed in the five counties, giving the region an average unemployment rate of 3.4%, which is lower than the statewide rate of 3.6%.

This compares to October 2020, when 2,409 workers applied for unemployment benefits and the unemployment rate was 5.2%.

Announcements like the one TCOM from Elizabeth City made in September have also helped. The aerostat maker said it was awarded a $ 217.3 million contract from the U.S. military to manufacture a captive aerostat platform for Saudi Arabia. TCOM said at the time that the contract would result in “significant hiring activity”.

Another job creation project was all but completed earlier this month when the city and county worked out the final details to transform the former Elizabeth City Middle School into 84 one- and two-bedroom apartments at the rate of the Marlet. The project is expected to cost around $ 10 million and create 147 jobs, according to documents provided to city and council officials.

Along with the good economic news, however, there were signs the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on local jobs. In October, a snapshot of unique job openings in the Elizabeth City area by NCWorks, the state employment agency, totaled 2,108. This compares to 1,382 in November 2020.

Request-for-Help signs have become so plentiful across Elizabeth City that they have almost started to look like part of the exterior of businesses. Local and national fast food chains, retailers and healthcare providers were all looking for workers in 2021.

Savvas Rallis, owner of The Villa, said in March that restaurants in town were struggling to find cooks, waiters and other staff. The Villa has reduced its hours, but Rallis noted that other restaurants had recently returned to take-out only because they weren’t able to hire waiters.

Rallis said he believed stimulus money and other benefits provided by state and federal governments in 2021 took many people away from the incentive to work.

David Whitmer, director of the Northeastern Workforce Development Board, said extended unemployment benefits may have played a role in the labor shortage, but noted that the causes were varied and complicated. He said fear of being exposed to COVID-19 and the lack of childcare services were also contributing factors.

“I think there has been a real fear of the health issues,” he said in October. “Those who are frontline workers are people who come into contact with customers on a daily basis. Some people leave restaurants because it’s front line work. Lack of child care is also a problem in the region.

Whitmer also said more people are deciding to take early retirement.

“If you look at the data for an area of ​​10 counties that includes Pasquotank County, we have a lot of people who are on the verge of retirement,” he said.

Junior Gonzalez, owner of Big Boss Burritos, a Mexican restaurant on Poindexter Street, said in November that with more people feeling comfortable dining out again, he felt the urgency to hire more. of workers.

“When I open the food truck, I will have to hire full-time and part-time people because the restaurant will be open and the food truck will be open elsewhere,” he said.

Likewise, Vann’s Pizza House owner Spiros Giannakopoulos said in October that he and his staff were happy to see customers return for an in-person dinner. The only thing missing, he said, was enough help to serve them.

“Customers love to eat out again, but we need help,” he said. “We are looking for servers, reliable staff to come to work on a daily basis and do the job well. We have a core group and we would like to add to that team.

There were also signs in late fall that supply chain shortages hampering businesses across the country were also having an effect on local businesses.

CJ Stallings, who shopped at Walmart on Black Friday in November, said he and his wife were easily able to find the microwave and vacuum cleaner they were looking for. However, his construction business had been badly affected by supply chain issues. He said he recently had to wait four months for a window he usually gets in two weeks.

“I see it in the lumber too,” Cooper said, noting that lumber prices were constantly fluctuating.

Tim Askew of Askew’s Cycles said his business has also been directly affected by supply chain shortages.

Askew said he would typically have around 40 vehicles in his showroom and as many more in crates at the back of the store. But on Black Friday this year, Askew only exhibited a few motorcycles and just two all-terrain vehicles.

“Everything we have for sale is on the floor,” Askew said. “There is nothing at all in the back.”

Askew said Polaris, a popular US ATV maker, was taking orders for products. But it now takes three months or more – maybe up to five months – for items to arrive after being ordered. Turnaround times were faster over the summer, but since the transition from the 2021 model year to the 2022 model year, things have been moving much slower, he said.

Askew said he heard that overall motorcycle inventories are expected to improve by mid-2022. But he noted he was taking a wait-and-see approach.

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