Virginia Business: Two Virginias - New efforts aim to shrink the economic gap between urban and rural regions

Virginia Business: Two Virginias - New efforts aim to shrink the economic gap between urban and rural regions
Illustration by Matt Brown, Virginia Business

March 5, 2018

By Robert Burke 

Let’s revisit some recent economic misery. By March 2010, the Great Recession was over and a recovery was underway nationwide. But it surely didn’t feel that way in some parts of Virginia.

Southern Virginia, Southwest Virginia and other rural areas had lost jobs for years before the recession, as manufacturing and textile companies folded or left town for cheaper factories overseas. Coal and tobacco had long been fading, too. The 2007-09 recession only added insult to injury.

Eight years ago, for example, Henry County’s unemployment rate was 16.1 percent, with 3,910 people out of work, according to Virginia Employment Commission figures. The jobless rate in Martinsville was 18.9 percent. That’s 1,172 people looking for jobs.

A surging national economic recovery and new economic development projects have helped the Martinsville area in recent years. By last December, Henry County’s unemployment rate had dropped to 4.4 percent while Martinsville was down to 6.1 percent. That improving employment trend is happening in a lot of other rural areas of the state, too.

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