Pandemic tripled county jobless rate

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — Pickens County’s unemployment rate more than tripled in April, although the unemployment rate of other Upstate counties grew even more.

Acting county administrator Ken Roper discussed April unemployment numbers during county council’s June 1 meeting.

“Obviously one of the concerns from COVID-19 has been the way that the response has negatively impacted our economy — and we know that it has,” Roper said. “We’ve seen those numbers nationally. We’ve seen those numbers on the state level.”

Pickens County’s unemployment rate in April was 11 percent, Roper said.

“That was up from 2.9 percent in March when the pandemic started,” he said. “Now, it’s hard to describe 11 percent unemployment and more than tripling of the unemployment number as good news, but let me give you a frame in it that might give you some degree of hope — and that is that we have the lowest rate of unemployment in the 10 Upstate counties.”

Of Pickens County’s neighboring counties, Anderson County had an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent, Greenville County had a jobless rate of 12.2 percent and Oconee County had 12.1 percent unemployment in April, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

Of the 10 Upstate counties, Union County had the highest unemployment rate in April at 18.5 percent.

“The South Carolina statewide rate is 12.2 percent, up from 3.0 in March, and the national rate is 14.4,” Roper said. “I just point that out to perhaps show it as data that shows the resilience of our local community and our economy and the hopefulness that we will be able to bounce back at a strong rate because we know that we are, right now, the best number in the Upstate.”

County council approved second readings of three ordinances designed to help kickstart the local economy as the county comes out of shutdown, but voted to send them to the Committee of the Whole for further discussion before third reading.

The ordinances had not been through the committee process, Roper said.

The ordinances were initially presented during council’s May 4 meeting as potential economic development incentives.

The first ordinance would amend the Pickens County procurement ordinance for the purpose of increasing the county’s procurement policy from 3 percent to 5 percent to increase the preference for supporting local businesses.

“I’m for doing this, but do we do it for a specific length of time?” council chairman Roy Costner asked on May 4.

That was up to council to decide, Roper said.

“I think 5 percent sends a good message,” he said. “It doesn’t get so out of kilter that it would increase our cost astronomically.”

Councilman Trey Whitehurst said he believed in local business, but the county already gives a 3 percent preference to local business.

“There’s plenty of people that live in Pickens County, but their business may be outside of Pickens County,” he said. “There’s people who live outside of Pickens County, but their business may be inside Pickens County. I believe everyone needs to compete on a level playing field.”

The second ordinance would amend the Pickens County procurement ordinance to allow for local chamber of commerce representatives to serve as an advisory group.

The third ordinance would create a small business retention grant program.

Whitehurst voted against the three ordinances, but voted in favor of the amendments to send them to committee.

“There’s a lot of things about this I don’t agree with, and I’m going to vote against it, but I’m happy to be open and talk about this in committee, just to be consistent on my original vote on it until I’m persuaded otherwise” he said.