Beaufort County economy, Beaufort County workforce

Published 7:39 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I’ve always been impressed with how many people volunteer their time to help their community and others in need of help in Beaufort County. Beaufort County is a community of volunteers. As an elderly person who is retired, I like to volunteer my time to help out the community. I have expertise and experience that helps me be a productive volunteer in my opinion.

Before I was a county commissioner, I was deeply involved in economic development. As a commissioner, I was involved but not to the same degree. I am now back involved and am concerned about all the challenges our county faces.



Beaufort County lost over 4,000 industrial jobs through plant closings and cutbacks in the 1990s. In 2000, the county became highly involved in economic development with the hiring of an aggressive economic development director. The county had several successes. All accept one of those companies are operating today and providing Beaufort County citizens with jobs.

In 2007, Beaufort County experienced the recession that brought us to our knees and could have resulted in a depression. This bought economic development basically to a halt in Beaufort County. Things have gotten better since than with many urban areas doing quite well. Things are not quite as bright in rural areas with many areas in recession, and, some basically dying.

In the last few years, Beaufort County has seen Weir Valves move to Texas, part of Stanadyne leave with the remaining portion becoming Clarcor, and have experienced layoffs at PotashCorp-Aurora. On the positive side we have seen Flanders Solutions and Oakridge establish a presence in The Washington-Beaufort County Industrial Park.

Of concern is the Beaufort County workforce: it has shrunk to under 20,000. Twenty-five years ago numbers close to 23,000 appeared regularly on the employment reports. Beaufort County is becoming older and many young people are leaving.

There are six different unemployment rates tracked by various parties. The U3 rate is the official U.S. government number and was 7 percent in Beaufort County in August 2015. The U6 rate is considered the real unemployment rate by many people. It normally tracks 4 percentage points higher than the U3 rate and has been tracked since 1994. Present U.S. unemployment rate is 5 percent; the U6 rate is 10 percent. Gallup estimates the current U6 rate to be 14.1 percent, not the 10 percent reported by the government. The U6 rate would be higher in Beaufort County; upwards to 20 percent may not be out of the question. In other words, there are many available people to work.

Of key importance to Beaufort County is to strengthen and develop a skilled and employable workforce. This involves the cooperation and work of many parties including Beaufort County Public Schools, Beaufort County Community College, various government agencies, the Chamber of Commences, Committee of 100 and Beaufort County Government. All of these parties are working hard on workforce development and there has been much success but there is a lot more work to do.

Technical and craft skills are becoming just as important as four-year college degrees now-a-days and semi-skilled direct labor workers are in demand. A person does not need a four-year college degree to get a good job. In fact, certain skill jobs pay as much or more than jobs that can be obtained with a four-year college degree.

Two companies in Beaufort County are in the process of expanding over a period of time. To accomplish this, five-year plans are being developed to forecast their employment needs and how they can be fulfilled. This is being accomplished with participation from most of the major resources in the county.

The Division of Workforce Solutions, the North Carolina Commission of Workforce Development, and Beaufort County Community College are all connected through NCWorks. NCWorks has many resources that can assist Beaufort County if they know what we need and have time to plan for it.

Knowing the future needs gives Beaufort County Public Schools and Beaufort County Community College time to prepare the education and training programs necessary to graduate students with the skills to work at these companies. Instantaneous reaction to company needs is difficult if you don’t know what the needs are. Business and the community need to be partners.

Having a skilled and productive workforce is a key to Beaufort County’s future. A skilled strong workforce is a competitive advantage to retaining and attracting new businesses and industry. Beaufort County is definitely moving in the right direction.

Al Klemm is a retired Beaufort County commissioner.