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Forbes magazine: Lancaster 'most vulnerable town'

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By Jenny Hartley

Local officials realize that many folks in Lancaster County are struggling right now.

But to say that Lancaster County is the most vulnerable town in the country? Officials aren't buying it.

Forbes magazine published a report last week that listed the country's most and least vulnerable towns.

Lancaster County topped the list, with its 12.2 percent unemployment rate. The county also ranked poorly in education, with only 18.6 percent of the town's workforce with an associate's degree or higher. About 20 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line, according to the report.

"I think that they've gotten misinformation," said County Council Chairman Rudy Carter. "It sounds like we're a bunch of starving people up here and that's not right. Jobs are scarce, but it's not doom and gloom."

According to Lynda Burke, executive director of the local S.C. Employment Commission office, her agency was able to put 200 people back to work in September. The office still sees about 1,000 people a week, with sometimes up to 500 people showing up on Mondays.

Carter said several companies are looking at Lancaster County as a potential new home. It's only a matter of time until economic conditions improve in the county, he said.

County Administrator Steve Willis said he doesn't dispute the county's 12.2 percent unemployment rate. But Willis said other figures in the Forbes article could use some double-checking.

Willis said the article used figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor and Statistics and are based on projects from the last Census.

It doesn't take into account the population boom of Indian Land, which could change poverty and education levels.

"These little snapshots can be extremely misleading," Willis said. "Some of the things we're going to take a look at. We certainly don't dispute Forbes, but some of the projections are based on data that is over eight years old."

Lancaster Mayor Joe Shaw, who has lived in Lancaster all his life, said the area has been devastated in recent years with the closings at major plants, although he didn't name any particular companies.

He said he wants residents to know that the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, the city of Lancaster and county are working together to bring more jobs to the county.

Shaw said there are several prospective companies looking at Lancaster, but some industries may be holding back on relocation due to lending issues.

"It's not good to read those kinds of things in a magazine," Shaw said. "But we know what we need to do and we're doing it. We're not sitting back. You just have to keep working at it."

Lancaster does have a good workforce, Shaw said. He also touted Lancastrians as being religious people who get along well with each other.

"Our schools are good and we have a wonderful university," Shaw said. "We have the tools."

Other vulnerable towns on Forbes' list include Zanesville, Ohio, with an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent and poverty rate of 16.2 percent; Palatka, Fla.; and Shelby, N.C.

Least vulnerable towns include Lebanon, N.H., which has an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent, a median income of $51,099 and an 8.3 percent poverty rate; Helena, Mont.; Key West, Fla.; and Seaford, Del.

For more, go to www.forbes.com.

Forbes' most vulnerable towns in U.S.

1) Lancaster County, S.C.

2) Palatka, Fla.

3) Shelby, N.C.

4) Mount Airy, N.C.

5) Roanoke Rapids, N.C. 6) Lumberton, N.C.

7) Zanesville, Ohio

8) Marion, Ind.

8) Portsmouth, Ohio

10) Meridian, Miss.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151