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Noble County trying to rebound from staggering unemployment figures for April

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Noble County registered a 28.7% unemployment rate in April, 4th highest in Indiana.
Dexter Axle in Albion is beginning to bring furloughed workers back, after sales plummeted in April.

NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Counties across northeast Indiana are dealing with historically high unemployment numbers.

One of the hardest hit in this region is Noble County, where the jobless rate for the month of April came in fourth highest for the entire state.

You cannot spin a 28.7% unemployment rate as a good thing, and no one is trying to do that.

But there are indications a rebound is underway.

In April in Noble County, nearly three out of ten people in the workforce were laid-off.

The numbers were high there, in large part, because of the heavy reliance on jobs in the manufacturing sector, which took a beating during the COVID-19 lockdown.

More than half the county's total payroll comes from manufacturing jobs.

In Kendallville, a Kraft Foods plant was as busy as ever in April, but other companies like No Sag Products and Creative Liquid Coatings were impacted by stay at home orders and had to temporarily furlough some staff.

Some of those jobs have already come back.

The same is true for Busche Machining outside Albion.

Still, the economic slowdown has been jarring.

"We are very heavily manufacture based, which is good, because the salaries are good, the benefits are good for our people, but also when like the automotive industry shuts down, then it's just the ripple effect all the way," said Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe.

"We have a niche for manufacturing, we have a workforce that's skilled in manufacturing, so we've been able to attract and grow our manufacturing, and so…moments like this there's a little pain, but the good news, there seems to be a lot of optimism on the horizon," said Gary Gatman, the executive director of the Noble County Economic Development Corporation.

Dexter Axle, which employs about 800 workers in Albion, helps illustrate the notion that the county's economic situation is improving.

In April, the company's sales were down 70 percent and staff members were laid off.

In May, sales are still down, but now by less than 25 percent and people are being called back to work.

In a survey of 30 Noble County manufacturers commissioned by the county's Economic Development Corporation, only 9 out of 2,000 laid-off positions were projected to be permanent.

It is not clear if restaurant, retail and other service jobs will make a similar comeback in the weeks ahead.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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