Economic conditions are a lot brighter for some job-hunters in East Tennessee. That includes prospective employees near Monroe County, where unemployment numbers soared to more than 19 percent in 2009.
Now unemployment sits at around 10 percent. The drop comes as many of the county's largest employers bounce back from the economic lull and expand their production.
Power steering system manufacturer JTEKT was among the companies that made cuts in 2009.
"In 2009 we had a furlough process. We were fortunate enough that we got everybody back by the end of that year, but it was a difficult time," said Craig Woodford, president of JTEKT Automotive Tennessee Vonore.
Woodford said the company navigated the nation's bumpy economic road and also endured slowdowns following the Tsunami that hit Japan's automotive industry. Now he says the Vonore-based operation is clearly steering in a positive direction.
"We're in the process of ramping up our volumes for Nissan. Specifically the Nissan Altima, so that's increased our hiring this year," said Woodford. "We've hired 250 people in the last year. Around 150 of those hires have come since January. We have about 50 more to hire and we're in the process now of going through applications."
JTEKT is one of several companies at the industrial park in Vonore to increase production.
"Recently we've been seeing a very dramatic change. We've seen a lot of people come back to work," said Ron Hammontree, executive director of Tellico Reservoir Development Agency Executive Director. "This industrial park has seen some cut backs during the economic downturn, but it is very diverse. We have some industries like pharmaceuticals and food that were stable throughout. Now you see a resurgence in automotive and boat sales."
Three major boat manufacturers are based in Vonore. That includes Tennessee Watercraft, which is owned by Yamaha and has expanded its production.
Hammontree said he is encouraged to see existing industries rebound and maintain employment for people in Monroe and surrounding counties. Now he hopes Monroe County can continue to build on the positive momentum and attract new companies.
"We all continue to walk on glass if you will, but we still feel very positive about what's going on in our community," said Hammontree.
"It is obviously a lot more fun to talk about growth," said Woodford. "I think from a morale standpoint that affects people positively and the mood here is very good."