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Unemployment numbers jump across state, county

• U.S. Treasury link for information on available small business loans

More than 31,000 people across South Carolina, including 239 in Laurens County, filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 21, an increase of about 1,600% from the previous week as state residents and businesses began to cope with the spread of COVID-19.

For the week ending March 14, 1,996 additional claims were filed, but that was prior to “social distancing” orders from local, state and federal leaders. Those instructions came in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, we have seen some job loss in our county with regards to COVID-19,” said Laurens County Development Corporation President/CEO Jonathan Coleman. “The unemployment claim numbers for the week ending March 21 equals about .08% of our labor force, so it will not significantly increase our unemployment percentage.

“According to the numbers, we are fairing much better than a lot of the counties and the state as a whole. We are working hard to try and get any of those displaced paired up with employers in the county that are currently hiring.”

ZF Transmissions, the county’s largest private employer, not announced layoffs or staff cuts but closed its doors through the end of March beginning on March 20. No announcement has been made as to whether the facility will reopen as scheduled.

While some local industries have slowed, Muffin Mam, which opened its Laurens County production facility in 2019, is hiring.

We are happy to report that Muffin Mam in Laurens is going strong,” said Whitney Lagrange, LCDC director of marketing. “They are currently hiring for managers, cake decorators and line lead positions.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced the closures of all non-essential businesses by executive order at a Tuesday news conference.

Small businesses in the area are already feeling the pinch as restaurants have been reduced to drive-thru and takeout services and some retail stores have already closed due to a lack of shopping traffic.

Clinton Mayor Bob Mclean and Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn both said they felt for safety purposes that closing more businesses may lead to a safer state, and both said potential federal aid and loan options might help businesses through this very tough time.

McLean and Senn said it would be important for their cities to help business owners take advantage of the aid which the federal government is offering.

“I hope we can get ahead of the curve,” McLean said of the small business loans. “The money will go fast.

McLean said he had missed the governor’s announcements because he was in meetings to determine how to assist those who asked for help navigating the federal aid.

Senn said since the aid was going to be available, flattening the curve might happen more quickly if McMaster took a stronger approach.

“The reason the federal programs are there is so that businesses can close and prevent infection,” Senn said. “We certainly understand the desire to let individuals and businesses make choices which are best suited to their own needs and circumstances. Nevertheless, the Governor has ordered that certain businesses be closed. Some may remain open, though many should not. So, for so long as the decision to remain open or not remains with the business owner, we want to speak with a unified voice, echoing the request of the Governor: Please stay home.”

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