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Oconee County’s June unemployment rate is 4.6 percent, according to data provided by Northeast Georgia Regional Commission Workforce Development Director Carol Rayburn Cofer. The rate in May was 6 percent, and April was 8.7 percent.

June 2019 data was unavailable as of deadline for comparison, but the unemployment rate in May 2019 was 2.5 percent. The record high unemployment rate for Oconee County during the Great Recession was 7.6 percent in January and June of 2011.

Northeast Georgia’s unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in June, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

“June continued to show positive growth across all regions and counties,” Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said in a press release. Employ Georgia, the GDOL’s online job listing service at employgeorgia.com showed 4,540 active job postings in Northeast Georgia.  

The highest impacted industry was food service and accommodations, followed by health care and social assistance and then retail trade. Manufacturing was the least impacted.

Cofer said there had been 8,749 initial unemployment claims filed for the Northeast Georgia region. Claims peaked in April at 3,731 claims and have been decreasing since that time.

“That’s the trend,” she said. “The question is what happens next. … We don’t know. it’s hard to predict.”

 Sales Tax

June sales tax collections are down 6.44 percent from last year at the same time. However, the lowest point of the year was in the late spring when sales tax was down between 9 and 10 percent due to the maximum number of stores being temporarily closed or operating with limited hours.

“They have been ‘returning’ since then,” said County Administrator Justin Kirouac. “It’s difficult to make month comparisons across fiscal years because consumer habits are likely much different this year with the changes in activity. … To see a true picture, it’ll require a larger sample size over the balance of the calendar year, at least.” 

Oconee County Schools Director of Communications Anisa Sullivan Jimenez said the current period of E-LOST collections are down 6.42 percent from 2019 with a rolling average of 3.32 percent lower than last year. 

Epps Bridge Centre has several vacancies. The stores to the left and right of Guitar Center—formerly occupied by LifeWay Christian Store and Kinnucan’s—closed before the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Bone Island Grillhouse and Gigi’s Cupcakes also closed in 2019. 

Di’lishi Frozen Yogurt Bar announced during COVID-19 that it will close permanently. Pier 1 Imports announced that it will close all of its stores across the United States.

Chamber of Commerce

“Although so many of our businesses have been able to quickly pivot and adapt to the current times, many are still struggling tremendously,” said Oconee Chamber of Commerce President Courtney Bernardi. “While most financial resources have been stretched or almost expended over the last several months to cover the loss in revenue during the shutdown, without an uptick in revenue, several of our local businesses may begin to face very hard decisions in the weeks and months to come.”  

Bernardi said Oconee businesses have shown their strength but are not out of the woods yet. 

“It is more important than ever that we try and shop locally as often as possible,” she said. “Many of our businesses offer curbside pick up and are more than happy to help you shop over the phone or via Facetime if needed.”

Bernardi said the Oconee Chamber of Commerce continues to stand ready to assist any and all businesses in any way possible. 

“We continue to be a point of contact for those looking for resources,” said Bernardi. “We happily link our businesses/resources/experts together in order to build a stronger and more vibrant business community.” 

For more on this story, see the July 30 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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