Employment news in Cape Girardeau appears to be taking a turn for the better. Like the rest of the country, Cape Girardeau County saw increases in unemployment over the past year as the national recession came and went. Now the numbers are improving, and one particularly bright spot was last week's announcement that the Dana Corp. plant here will add 50 jobs by the end of the year.
A scant six months ago, the plant was among five of Dana's operations being considered for layoffs or closings. With the past year's economic slowdown, Dana saw the need for cost-cutting to offset reduced orders for the automotive components its plants produce. New-vehicle sales took a hit last year, thanks to the economy.
But the Cape Girardeau plant makes core products that are still in demand from automobile manufacturers. Production at other Dana plants, however, will be cut back. The company's Greensboro, N.C., plant will be closed. The Jonesboro, Ark., plant will close if no buyer can be found. And two Indiana plants will see significant layoffs.
The 50 jobs Dana intends to add in Cape Girardeau will be needed to produce products that formerly were made in North Carolina. And a new product line is being added.
In addition to making core products, the Cape Girardeau plant also showed significant gains in productivity over the previous year. Company officials cite a 12 percent increase in productivity as a key factor in the decision to bolster the local plant.
The Dana announcement comes as other indicators of a better state economy are surfacing. Missouri's unemployment fell to 5 percent in April from 5.4 percent in March -- an increase of some 20,000 jobs statewide, according to the state's Department of Economic Development.
In Cape Girardeau County, unemployment fell slightly to 4 percent. Some surrounding counties -- Bollinger, Mississippi, New Madrid and Scott -- also showed improvements in employment figures for April.
It wasn't too long ago that some employers in this area were complaining about the lack of qualified applicants for many job vacancies. With the uptick in unemployment figures over the past year, it became easier for employers to fill what few open jobs there were.
While some job seekers say their opportunities are still far slimmer than they would like, the state's database of available jobs shows a pretty healthy selection at a variety of pay rates.
All of these indicators -- lower unemployment rates, available job listings, plant expansions -- are good economic news for the area, which has been slow to show signs of recovery in spite of positive news nationally. If this trend continues, other areas such as sales-tax revenue should begin to show healthy gains as well.