By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff

Although other places in the United States posted higher unemployment, none topped the Elkhart-Goshen metropolitan area in the rate that jobs were lost during December.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its measurement of unemployment figures from 168 metropolitan areas.

From December 2007 to December 2008, the Elkhart-Goshen jobless rate skyrocketed 10.6 percentage points (with unemployment going from 4.7 percent to 15.3 percent) and put the Northern Indiana county in the No. 1 spot. At the No. 2 position, Dalton, Ga., recorded a jobless rate increase of 6.2 percent, slightly more than half the Elkhart-Goshen jump.

Unfortunately, this was not the only time Elkhart County has led the nation in unemployment increases. Since June 2008, Elkhart-Goshen has ranked either first or second on the BLS monthly inventory.

The list is evidence of the region's heavy dependence on the recreational vehicle sector, explained Jerry Conover, director of Indiana University's Indiana Business Research Center. As RV sales have suffered under high fuel prices and now under the credit freeze, the local economy has shed jobs and shuttered factories.

Conversely, Conover pointed out, when the industry was robust from 2002 to 2006, Elkhart-Goshen employment grew at a rate of 3 percent each year, leading all other metropolitan areas in Indiana by about 1.5 percent.

"That kind of strong cyclical pattern indicates that so goes the fate of the industry, so goes the fate of the metropolitan county," Conover said.

Still, holding a steady position on the list for several months could spur economic development.

Any business looking for a new location and that needs workers with the type of skills Elkhart County workers possess could find the high ranking attractive, Conover said. The listing indicates a work force is available and, given the current conditions, probably willing to work for lower wages.

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