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Roanoke, New River valleys’ economic recovery continues, but not for all

While many in the Roanoke and New River valleys returned to work after layoffs and furloughs following last spring’s coronavirus-related shutdown, experts say it will take time before the job market and larger local economy fully recovers.

In areas surrounding Roanoke, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.5% in June and April, but was down to 4.3% when 2021 began, said John Hull, executive director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership, a nonprofit economic development driver for the Roanoke Valley and Alleghany County.

“Unemployment is back down to a fairly low level,” Hull told the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors recently. “The job recovery is pulling ahead, but the full employment recovery is projected to be a number of years away, even though we’ve had brisk recovery to this point.”

The coronavirus pandemic sparked a federal state of emergency declaration in mid-March, and Virginia in short order restricted nonessential gatherings and ordered public schools closed.

In April, some 15,000 jobs were lost in the Roanoke region, Hull said.

“The metro market has regained roughly 10,500 of those jobs,” Hull said. “Employment is now 157,500, as of December 2020.”

During April and May, employment decreased to 147,000 employees in the Roanoke metro job market, the lowest since the mid-1990s, Hull said.

“Jobs destroyed by the pandemic, not all of them will return,” Hull said. “Some of those workers will need some up-skilling and training to compete.”

Employment took a similar dive in the New River Valley, where more than 12,000 jobs were lost between February and May 2020, representing a 16% cut of the market, said Charlie Jewell, executive director of Onward NRV, the region’s economic development organization.

“In terms of recovery, we’ve regained 73% of those jobs,” Jewell said.

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