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Add another sign to the green metal markers alerting drivers that they’ve entered Wilson County. It should read “Now Hiring.”
When the N.C. Department of Commerce released unemployment figures for February last week — the data always lags about a month behind — Wilson showed a reduction of its jobless rate from 7.2 percent to 6.8 percent, a healthy decrease from January.
While we only moved up one slot, from the 10th-highest unemployment rate among North Carolina’s 100 counties to the 11th-highest, there are plenty of reasons for optimism amid signs that Wilson County is shaking off the last of its Great Recession doldrums and climbing out of the cellar.
NEW PACKAGING PLANT
State officials announced Monday that Neopac, a Swiss company that makes squeeze tubes for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries — think eyedroppers and sunscreen and toothpaste containers with a cap on the bottom — will open its North American headquarters in Wilson, investing $30.8 million in our economy and hiring up to 44 workers.
Following the economic development announcement from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, Neopac held a ceremonial groundbreaking on Tuesday at the Wilson Corporate Park. The 37,000 square-foot plant will be built quickly and company officials expect production to start before year’s end.
Hiring should begin late this summer for an initial round of 15-20 positions. Pay will vary based on job duties, but Neopac will pay an average of $60,000 per year — good money in Wilson, where the median household income is $38,030.
Neopac US Managing Director Doug Voeris, who will lead plant operations here, said he looks forward to relocating to Wilson this month. “I want all of you to know we intend to be good neighbors and good corporate citizens,” he told local leaders at the groundbreaking.
OUR JOB-TRAINING HUB
Big things are happening at Wilson Community College, which made headlines this week for its success in preparing workers for rewarding careers.
WCC ranks No. 1 among all 58 North Carolina community colleges in the percentage of career and technical education grads entering the workforce, joining apprenticeship programs or enlisting in the military, according to the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network’s Core Indicators Report.
Students in WCC’s welding program are hot commodities, with instructor Keith Hobgood noting that industry leaders often stop by the college shoproom to meet students, some of whom they hire after they’ve earned welding certifications. Graduates of the medical office administration program typically have a stable job in their field within three to six months.
“The program ends in May, but my instructor said we should have a job before the end of April,” welding student Jorge Ruiz told Times reporter Drew C. Wilson.
MOVING THE NEEDLE
The Wilson County Agriculture Center played host to hundreds of job-seekers Wednesday as recruiters and hiring managers from more than 40 local companies shook hands and received resumes during the Greater Wilson Area Career Fair.
“Last year, people were hired on the spot,” Wilson County Department of Social Services team leader for the Career Plus program told Times reporter Olivia Neeley.
Participating businesses have roughly 600 open positions. That kind of eye-popping number can make a significant difference in our employment picture. State figures show that 2,444 workers in Wilson County’s 35,683-member labor force are looking for work. Subtracting 600 from that number would be a big step in the right direction.
Many enterprising Wilsonians work for themselves as small-business owners, and support in the form of low-interest loans from the North Carolina Rural Center could help more startups get off the ground.
Rural Center President Patrick Woodie told Wilson Chamber of Commerce members on Tuesday that his agency plans to make more capital available to more businesses. Some of those dollars could flow to local entrepreneurs.
“We are looking to scale up and step up significantly our activity in this area and become the largest rural micro-lender in the United States,” Woodie said.
A formal announcement is expected May 29 in Raleigh. Innovators, start your engines.
After a whirlwind week of good news on the job front, we’re convinced Wilson’s economic outlook is getting brighter all the time.