Perry Co unemployment goes from 27% to 4%, but challenges remain

Counties in Crisis
Perry County generic

(Photo: WKRN)

PERRY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A decade ago, Perry County, Tennessee drew international attention with unemployment numbers not seen since the Great Depression, but while those figures of 27% are now at 4%, challenges remain for the area 80-miles southwest of Nashville.

“Its so much better when you got a purpose to get up every morning and go to work–you got a job,” says Perry County resident Allison Kimble.

Ten years ago, she and her husband Scott both lost jobs at the same time.

An auto parts plant–Perry County’s biggest employer– locked its gates and moved around 500 jobs to Mexico.

It took a toll all over the county including kids like the Kimbles daughter Connor.

Back in 2009, Conner talked about what she sometimes heard in school.

“Some of my friend’s ask about how my parents are doing and if i have to move,” said the then 13-year-old.

Over the years, the Kimbles weathered the unemployment storm.

So did a Perry County manufacturer where Allison now works as an office manager.

“Its about 15 minutes from here to my house,” she told us earlier this month.

Husband Scott now commutes to another county as a plant supervisor.

The Kimbles daughter Connor is studying to be a marine biologist in Florida.

But while county unemployment is now less than four percent, those numbers don’t count those in Perry County who may have given up looking for work or those underemployed in low paying jobs.

“Always” looking for companies with higher paying jobs “and benefits” says Robby Moore, who is mayor of Lobelville, one of two small towns along with Linden, that make up the bulk of Perry County eight thousand residents.

Getting better jobs to places like Perry County often depends on better roads.

Mayor Moore has long pushed for a four lane highway connected to I-40 instead of two-lane hilly curvy Highway 13 that’s there now.

The Lobelville mayor is blunt about the major problem for areas like Perry County when competing with other parts of the state for those higher paying jobs.

“If you have twenty-five apply and ten do not have a four lane road…we never get that second look,” adds Mayor Moore.

Another issue that rural areas must answer is how to keep the kids from Perry County from leaving for jobs and lives elsewhere.

“We have the best export in the state of Tennessee–its our youth,” says Mayor Moore. “We have to find a way to retain that talent.”

He says only twenty percent of Perry County kids who eventually get some sort of secondary degree come back to the area.

Mayor Moore and Perry County Mayor John Carroll are two of the Perry County natives who did stay.

Mayor Carroll points to some new employers over the last decade that have left a welcome ripple effect for the small downtowns of Linden and Lobelville.

“Before you had a lot of empty buildings along Main Street,” says Carroll. “Today, you are hard pressed to find an open shop.”

The Perry County officials have plans for an industrial park in the northern end of the county.

They hope it will provide straight, flat access to build a four-lane connection from Interstate 40.

Robby Moore’s other job is running a bank, while John Carroll is also a lawyer.

Both say they stayed in Perry County for future generations.

“There are other things any of us could be doing,” says Mayor Carroll. “You are doing it because you want to give back, you are wanting to see the community a better place.”

Ten years ago, Allison Kimble said Perry County pride would deal with tough times.

Her reason then, and now, is simple.

Earlier this month she said “Perry County is my home. I love it. Love the people.”

Many rural communities across Tennessee are struggling to move forward. News 2 investigates “Counties in crisis” with special reports all day Thursday in every newscast. Click here to read more.

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