Chamber: Columbus Economy Mixed Bag In Second Quarter.

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Since the recession began in late 2007, the city of Columbus has lost more than 17,000 jobs. And, according to a new report from the Chamber of Commerce, those losses look to continue through the end of the year.

Officials with the Chamber say the quarterly report is actually good news. Bill Lafayette is an economist with the chamber and helped write the report. He’s sums it up this way.

“For the rest of the year, we’re going to be doing a whole lot better than the national average,” he says.

Lafayette is right in that the unemployment rate in Columbus is two percent lower than the state average and about a half percent lower than the national average. But one line from the Chamber report shows another side of local job cuts: Average employment in Columbus during 2009 is now expected to be far worse than originally predicted in January.

Lafayette estimates, in whole, Columbus will lose about 16,000 jobs this year. He expects those cuts to come from nearly every industry, but he says construction will continue to be hit the hardest. Columbus builders and contractors shed about 2,000 jobs in the last quarter – Lafayette says the pace of those cuts is easing, but he says the industry will continue to lose workers through the fourth quarter.

Among the employers cutting staff is Mike Fought. He’s co-owner of Nichols Builders, a small construction firm on the north side of the city. In May he laid off 16 employees, nearly half his work force.

“It wasn’t something that happened all at once,” Fought says. “As I didn’t have places or things for people to do, it was a matter of communicating with them and then cutting them back, and them knowing in a matter of weeks the project they were working on was the last project we had. We hoped that things would change, but they didn’t, and as a result they got laid off.”

Fought hopes he’s done making cuts, but says he still can’t make any guarantees to his remaining staff.

As construction and most other sectors continue to limp through 2009, one central Ohio sector is growing, considerably. Health care added more than 3,000 jobs between March and June. Terry Paul is a business professor at Ohio State University who follows the heath care industry. He says the job growth in Columbus is in line with similar-sized cities around the country.

“The fact that the number of jobs increased in Columbus, that might not be true for the rest of the country,” Paul says. “But the idea that the health care sectors outperforms just about every other sector interms of job growth and job retention – I think that would be true just about anywhere.”

Paul says that’s mainly because of increased public funding for health care. There were other good signs in Columbus during the second quarter. Transportation-related employers saw modest gains, and wholesales saw a slight increase in jobs. Overall Columbus lost just 300 jobs between March and June. That’s not growth, but, says Bill Lafayette with the Chamber of Commerce, it’s still better than most places.

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