Varied industry spared Lexington from the worst of the recession

As Thanksgiving approaches, Lexington residents can give thanks for their health and well-being, of course, but also perhaps for their city's variety of employers.

As the recession pounded the state, nation and globe, Lexington felt it, too, but not as severely, observers have said, because of our variety of employers.

Consider these statistics provided by Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the state Office of Employment and Training.

Lexington is less dependent on manufacturing, which has seen employment decline 27.1 percent statewide from 2001 to 2009. In Lexington, manufacturing employment is 8 percent of all employment, compared with 12.5 percent for the state. Also, the decline in manufacturing employment has not been as steep in Lexington, with just a 14.8 percent drop from 2001 to 2009.

The city makes up for that by having higher percentages of people employed in other industries, including agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; information; and real estate and rental and leasing.

The city also has a higher proportion of employees in the high-growth field of professional and business services, 6.3 percent, than the state as a whole (4.1 percent). That field, which includes accounting, architecture, scientific research and public relations, has seen employment grow 21.7 percent statewide between 2001 and 2009.

The city mirrors the state and nation in construction and retail trade.

The city's health care percentage is slightly deceiving: University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital employees are counted under state government and not private health care, Crouch said. Because of UK's presence, Lexington ranks much higher in state government employees, 11.4 percent, than the state as a whole, 4.9 percent.

The health care field has grown 18.5 percent in employment statewide from 2001 to 2009. Because of the UK factor, that growth in Lexington shows up mixed, as 7.4 percent in the health care field and contributing to the 19.9 percent growth in state government employment from 2001 to 2009.

Because of the variety of employers and larger presence of government jobs, the city also performs better on unemployment.

In 2009, Fayette County had the lowest unemployment rate of the state's 120 counties: 7.8 percent. Since 1976, the lowest that the county has been ranked is 12th, in 1990. In fact, that's the only time it has been out of the top 10 during that period, which included another top ranking in 1982. Crouch said 1990 appeared to be an "outlier year" for Fayette County. The county's unemployment rate didn't spike that year, but several other counties, including Franklin, saw their rates drop. Franklin, in fact, went from 10th to second.

The rosy unemployment situation spreads to Lexington's neighboring counties, too. Woodford ranked second and Jessamine eighth in 2009. Other ring counties are Madison, ranked 12th; Bourbon, 14th; Scott, 19th; and Clark, 53rd.

Magoffin County had the highest unemployment rate: 18.5 percent. That's not unusual for it, either. Since 1987, the county has ranked higher than 118th only twice (115th in 1998 and 116th in 1999).