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Unemployment rises in Durham-Chapel Hill while area experiences job growth

Unemployment rates have risen in North Carolina's metropolitan areas — including Durham-Chapel Hill — according to a report released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

At the same time, the area has experienced job growth. 

Orange County's unemployment rate increased from 4.2 percent to 4.7 percent over the past year, while the Durham-Chapel Hill unemployment rate increased from 4.8 percent to 5 percent. 

Ted Conner, senior vice president of economic development and community sustainability at the Durham Chamber of Commerce said the outlook is positive for the area.

“The economy is still going in the right direction,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it wildly optimistic, but our industry clusters are still very strong.”

Orange County weathered the recession particularly well, compared to the rest of North Carolina and the United States, thanks to its robust medical field, its public and private universities and the number of high-tech industries in Research Triangle Park, said Steve Brantley, director of Orange County Economic Development.

Orange County still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state — along with Chatham and Wake Counties, both of which also have a 4.7 percent unemployment rate, according to the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

Conner said what distinguishes Orange County from other counties with low unemployment rates is the low population combined with a high opportunity to find jobs within the university system.

“It’s a county that’s not got a particularly large population, but you have a very large university there," he said. "UNC and UNC Health Care System is a huge, huge job market."

Conner said universities are pushing the threshold and continuously doing new things.

“A lot of very interesting activities are growing at these universities outside the educational aspect. It’s healthcare. It’s research. Some of the universities now are actually moving into product development,” he said. 

For seniors graduating in May, Conner said the importance of a STEM education is rising, particularly in the local area given Research Triangle Park and the UNC Health Care System. 

“I think every college student, in my mind, should leave there with some element of a STEM education," he said.

Brantley said it's good for graduating seniors to fill needs in the Triangle by applying skills learned in school. 

He emphasized the importance of a STEM education, and said if he could go back to college, he would try to gain more technological skills. 

“The reality of today is that the more someone has a tech skill, the more it puts them ahead of the competition," he said. 

Rather than traveling or taking a gap year, he said he would advise graduating seniors to gain as much experience and work as they can, regardless of their career path or ideal location, due to the still competitive job market.

“The longer you’re out of school trying to figure out life, the older you get," he said.

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