“They are now up to about 140 people at the Yorozu plant. They are steadily hiring and it varies month to month, but they now have right at about 140. They will be up to 150 by the end of the calendar year. Of course, they are going to 300,” he said. He also said that many companies say when the unemployment rate drops to 3.2 or 3.5 percent, that is a labor pool that could be tough at that point. “It’s great we’re there but it also makes it a little more difficult to sell the availability of labor for an area. One of the things we’ve always been able to count on is the fact we have so many out of our work force who commute out of Walker County on a daily basis,” Knight said. “So if there are quality jobs here at home, it is a lot easier to find those people. “I think what you are seeing is that all of our automotive suppliers have slowly added small numbers of people, so they are all doing quite well right now. I think Yorozu has ramped up pretty quickly,” he said. Knight said Aldi and Harbor Freight, among other local stores, reflect a healthy trend in local retail. He pointed out the new Milo’s that just opened in Jasper even hired 50 people, 30 full-time and 20 part-time, which could reflect almost a quarter of a percent point in the unemployment rate. As for the struggling Jasper Mall, which is set to be auctioned off Thursday at the front of the Walker County Courthouse — although it is uncertain any takers will show up — he said its performance reflects a national trend for malls. He said JCPenney and K-mart, both of which pulled out of the mall as anchor stores, had not performed well on a national basis. Overall, “I think (the improvement) is a combination of the new retail establishments, the automotive sector doing really well and Yorozu getting ramped up,” he said. Local officials have also been continuing recruiting efforts. He said he and Jasper Mayor David O’Mary just returned Tuesday from a trip where they attended a meeting involving the U.S. Japan Association, seven Southeastern states and the nation of Japan. At the conference, which started Sunday, key business leaders from Japan and officials from the U.S. gather, alternating between Japan and the U.S. for location. This year it was in the U.S. “It was a great opportunity,” he said. “We had multiple meals sitting across the table from executives from Mitsubishi” and almost all other major Japanese companies. He also noted the national economy seems “more optimistic,” he said. Hutchison said Tuesday that other counties are seeing large drops, pointing out the number of unemployed in Tuscaloosa County dropped in one month by about 1,000 people in September. “We’re seeing it across the Southeast, to be honest,” she said, as well as the state. Raw numbers for the states are holding steady improvement. She also pointed out that as confidence in the job market grows, people who have dropped out of the job market will come back in time. She also noted different trends than what officials have seen in the past, which have altered numbers. Those age 17-24 are not coming into the labor market as early as they once did, “which tells us they are staying in school.” Also, baby boomers, who should be moving out of the market, are “bouncing in and out.” Also, the state’s pace of recovery is another factor. “What I’ve said for years is that Alabama was one of the last states to be fully impacted by the recession,” Hutchinson said. “Everyone always says the Great Recession started in 2007. Well, it did for most everybody. It didn’t really hit Alabama until the end of ‘08 and the beginning of ‘09.” In other words, the state was still doing well when everyone else was starting to hurt from the recession, as manufacturing plants kept the state afloat longer. The recession did hit, but she said officials have maintained for years, “We were late getting in and we’re going to be late getting out.” While the state was later starting to see a recovery, “all of our indicators are back to pre-recession levels, back to those 2007, early 2008 levels, which were good terms for us.” She said getting to 3 percent levels does mean the state is almost at full employment practically. For that reason, the state is starting to push apprenticeship programs at state career centers for potential workers and employers. That allows people to work at a business to learn high tech skilled jobs, while still making a paycheck. Employers are offered wage assistance to help with those programs, cutting costs. Walker County is a part of the Birmingham-Hoover metro area, she noted. Over the past year, the metro area has gained 3,100 jobs, with the biggest gains being in healthcare and social assistance jobs, up by 2,300 jobs. Construction is up 1,200 on construction jobs over the year, which she said is a very positive signal. State government went up by 1,000 jobs over that time in the metro area, while 900 were added in scientific and technical services.