Industrial relations director to discuss unemployment at next breakfast

Update from the chamber of commerce

Tom Surtees, director of the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), will speak at the monthly Blount County – Oneonta Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday, April 22, at Twin Oaks. The program begins at 7:30 a.m. and will be sponsored by Spring Valley Beach. Mr. Surtees will be speaking about unemployment trends, new benefits, future job prospects, and the state’s economy. Alabama recently increased unemployment benefits $25 per week and extended those benefits 13 weeks.

Tom Surtees was appointed revenue commissioner by Gov. Bob Riley in February 2004. He served in that capacity until September 2007 when the governor asked Surtees to replace Phyllis Kennedy as the director at DIR. Before joining the governor’s cabinet, Mr. Surtees was vice president of human resources with Birmingham-based Citation Corporation. Prior to working at Citation, he was employee relations manager at Stockham Valve and Fittings, Inc., and a personnel manager for Lamson and Sessions Company. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1979. In 1985, he received his master’s in business administration from UAB. In addition, Surtees served 27 years in the Alabama National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring in 1997 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Department of Industrial Relations

The Department of Industrial Relations has five operational divisions that work to improve the quality of life for Alabama citizens, as well as to improve the state’s business climate. They are as follows: Employment Service, Unemployment Compensation, Worker’s Compensation, Labor Market Information, and Mining and Reclamation.

As a cabinet-level department of the state government, DIR provides services that have considerable impact on the economic well-being of all Alabamians.

The Unemployment Compensation Division is built around one central idea: a worker who loses his job, through no fault of his own, deserves financial help. The Worker’s Compensation Division provides compensation for job-related injuries and occupational diseases. The basic function of the Alabama State Employment Service is matching and referral of qualified job seekers with employers’ job openings. The Labor Market Information Division collects and analyzes labor market data for use by employers, economic developers, researchers, and others, and the division provides monthly unemployment rates. The Mining and Reclamation Division restores land and water resources adversely affected by past coal mining, inspects all working places in mines, and requires all lands mined for non-fuel minerals be reclaimed.

Breakfast Sponsor

A special thanks to Spring Valley Beach for sponsoring the April breakfast. Spring Valley Beach is owned and operated in Blountsville by the Allen Gilliland family. It is home to one of the largest, if not the largest, swimming pool in the southeastern United States. Spring Valley Beach is featured prominently in the new tourism video produced by the chamber. The pool currently features three water slides and is constantly upgraded to offer additional entertaining activities. Allen Gilliland is a member of the Blount County-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. A special thanks to the Gilliland family for assisting the chamber in bringing another important program to our community.

February 2009 Unemployment Rate

The Alabama Department of Industrial Relations released the state and county jobless rates for February 2009 on March 27, 2009. The Alabama rate of 8.4 percent was the highest since January 1987 when the unemployment figure was 8.5 percent. The February number represents 180,547 Alabamians without jobs and a loss of 3400 jobs since January 2009. The state rate was higher than the U.S. average of 8.1 percent.

Alabama’s February rate of 8.4 percent was an increase from the January rate of 7.8 percent. The state rate continues to be lower than our neighboring states: Mississippi 9.1 percent; Tennessee, 9.1 percent; Georgia, 9.3 percent; and Florida, 9.4 percent.

The Alabama counties with the lowest rates included: 1) Shelby, 6.1%; 2) Madison, 6.2%; 3) Coffee and Lee, 7.0%; 4) Tuscaloosa, 7.3%; 5) Houston,7.4%; 6) Baldwin and Pike, 7.6%; 7) Cleburne, 7.7%; 8) Dale, 7.9%; 9) Elmore and Limestone, 8.1%; and 10) Blount and Autauga, 8.2%.

There were 37 counties during the month of February with rates of 10 percent or higher. The counties with the highest rates were as follows: 67) Wilcox, 21.5%; 66) Chambers, 18.9%; 65) Dallas, 18.5%; 64) Lowndes, 17.4%; 63) Perry, 17%; 62) Monroe, 16.1%; 61) Conecuh, 15.7%; and 60) Lamar, 14.9%.

During the month of February, there were 2132 Blount Countians without jobs, an increase of 305 from January. During the same time frame, 23,837 local citizens were employed. Blount’s unemployment rate increased from 7.1 percent in January to 8.2 percent in February.

Blount County had the third lowest unemployment rate for 2008 with 4.1 percent.

Alabama was tied with Washington for the thirty-fourth lowest jobless rate during the month of February. States with the lowest rates included: 1) Wyoming, 3.9%; 2) Nebraska, 4.2%; 3) North Dakota, 4.3%; 4) South Dakota, 4.6%; and 5) Iowa, 4.9%. These were the only states with unemployment rates lower than 5.0 percent.

States with the highest rates included: 51) Michigan, 12%; 50) South Carolina, 11%; 49) Oregon, 10.8%; 48) North Carolina, 10.7%; and 47) California and Rhode Island, 10.5%. (The unemployment rate for the District of Columbia is reported in the survey, which creates 51 rankings.)

Chamber Banquet

Make plans to attend the 26th Annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet that will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, at World Outreach Center. Tickets for the banquet are $200 for a table of eight or $25 for individual tickets. Tickets will be available in the chamber office by the first of April.

During this special event, the chamber will recognize the Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year, and Industry of the Year, as well as the Teachers of the Year from both school systems. Nominations for Citizen of the Year, Business of the Year, and Industry of the Year are now being accepted. Please e-mail a letter of nomination to or mail to P.O. Box 1487, Oneonta, AL, 35121. Nominations will be accepted through Friday, April 10.

County and State Population Growth

The U.S. Census Bureau released Alabama county population growth estimates for the period of April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2008. Some of the findings were interesting and revealed growth and decline patterns throughout the state: 35 Alabama counties lost population during this time while 32 counties gained population. Alabama gained 214,545 residents during this period, representing a growth rate of 4.8 percent.

Of the 67 counties in Alabama, the 10 fastest growing counties were as follows: 1) Shelby, 31.1%; 2) Baldwin, 24.2%; 3) St. Clair, 23.3%; 4) Elmore, 18.6%; 5) Limestone, 16%; 6) Lee, 15.5%; 7) Madison, 15.4%; 8) Autauga, 15.3%; 9) Blount, 12.6%; and 10) Houston, 10.9%.

Shelby County gained the largest number of residents, 44,505, during this time, and Dallas County lost the largest number at 3,526. Four Alabama counties – Choctaw, Sumter, Perry, and Lamar – lost more than 10% of their total population.

Additional information indicates that Marion County had the oldest population with 18 percent of the total being 65 years or older. Tallapoosa had 17 percent of its population 65 years or older.

Perry County had the youngest population with more than 32 percent of its total population being younger than 20 years of age. Mobile, Montgomery, and Shelby counties had 29 percent of the population aged from birth to 20 years.

The counties with the largest Hispanic population are Franklin, 12.5 percent; Marshall, 9 percent; and Shelby, 8 percent.


Mayor Darryl Ray and the Oneonta City Council extended abatements and incentives to McMillian Fabricators last week and in doing so created 15 new jobs immediately and 15 new jobs during the next two years. Seventy-five percent of all new jobs are created by existing business and industry. City officials are to be commended for promoting a progressive business climate that creates new jobs.

Wayne Cranford of the State Banking Department presented an interesting program at last week’s chamber breakfast. He reassured us that local banks are safe and doing a great job.

Much good continues to occur in Blount County. By working together, we are making a very good community even better.