Unemployment is down in Virginia, to its lowest level since 2007, and rates are also holding steady in Hampton Roads.
The seasonally adjusted rate for July was just 3.1 percent for the commonwealth and it was 3.5 percent for Hampton Roads in June – the most recent month available. So far this year in Hampton Roads, the unemployment rate has been as high as 3.7 percent in February and as low as 3.1 percent in April and May.
“When you look at the business prospects here in Hampton Roads things are trending in the right direction,” said Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. He said they tend to track data points to identify trends with employment and the economy, more so than simply relying on a monthly unemployment rate.
Stephens said many employment sectors in the region are doing well, and recalled unemployment sitting around 6.0 – 6.5 percent just a year or two ago.
“Right now anything associated with shipbuilding is going strong,” he said, pointing out Newport News Shipbuilding/Huntington Ingalls and the Port of Norfolk, and the jobs those facilities offer to middle or technical skill sets such as welding and pipe-fitting.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the civilian labor force in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area was just over 867,000. Of those, about 785,000 workers are in non-farm related jobs.
The largest employment sector in Hampton Roads is in government, with 155,700 jobs, a drop from 160,500 in April.
Trade, Transportation, and Utilities comes in second with about 136,100 people employed in those jobs; Professional and Business Services is third with 114,500; Education and Health Services is next at about 106,200 persons employed – also down, from 110,600 in May.
As far as the cities in the region, Virginia Beach has the largest workforce (238,126) and the lowest unemployment (3.1 percent).
Chesapeake has the next largest workforce (122,285) and also the second lowest unemployment rate (3.4 percent). Norfolk has a workforce of 113,845 with an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent; Newport News has 91,702 in the workforce and an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent; Hampton has 65,946 people in the workforce with 4.3 percent unemployed, which is the highest in the region along with Portsmouth, where there’s 4.3 percent unemployment rate. Portsmouth has 45,257 people in the workforce.
Creating new jobs
“The areas we look for at the Chamber are the areas we can expand into,” Stephens said. “We’re looking to create opportunities.”
Cybersecurity, communication, and unmanned vehicles are growth areas he mentioned and hopes the region can exploit.
But with just 3.5 percent of the population not already employed, how might that impact the region’s ability to attract new business and industry?
Stephens doesn’t think it will at all.
“We have a tremendously talented workforce here in Hampton Roads,” he said. “And our colleges and universities are producing very knowledgeable graduates.”
The other component of the region’s workforce, Stephens said, is the military, those transitioning out of the military, the veterans who live here, and the spouses of active duty military, who help to “create a talent pool in Hampton Roads that is second to none.”
“We need to continue to leverage that,” he said.
The Chamber currently has “numerous” economic development initiatives in the works, but none that are ready to be announced, Stephens said.
“We’re working on creating conditions for those businesses to come here and to succeed,” he said.
The region is attractive due not only to its workforce, but also because of the advantages it has in-place that allow products and people to be moved, both on the water and through the air.
Stephens said the Chamber is interested in “mega-sites,” which are essentially large industrial parks that have roads, utilities, and sometimes buildings already constructed and are ready for businesses to move right in, which he said can make attracting new businesses easier.