OWENSBORO, Ky. — While many cities around the U.S. have struggled to keep unemployment rates under control, Owensboro has seen a drop. 

What You Need To Know

  • Owensboro is only city in U.S. to see decline in unemployment during pandemic

  • Unemployment rate in June 2020 was 4.2 percent compared to 4.6 percent in June 2019

  • Mayor credits decrease to city's essential nature and small size

The small town’s economy runs on the success of many businesses deemed essential during the shut-down. While many businesses let people go, industries of agriculture and factory work were hiring. Agriculture is one of the main economic stimulants, producing everything from corn to tobacco.

O.Z. Tyler Distillery began making hand sanitizer, and first responders depended on the protective gear and uniforms provided by Uni First. Mayor of Owensboro Tom Watson says the city's essential nature and small size helped keep unemployment rates under control.

“All those industries were really providing something that was needed during the COVID, and then you take the fact that none of these companies are huge that would have like 5000 people working for them, so its manageable numbers,” said Watson. 

Owensboro has seen a 0.4 percent decrease in unemployment rates, reporting 4.6 percent in June of 2019 and 4.2 percent in June of 2020.

Keeping communities small and businesses local is something Watson views as a benefit for the community. Unlike bigger cities that may house big-name factories, plants and dealerships, Owensboro was able to avoid massive layoffs and shutdowns.

“We don’t have a lot of land to expand, we don’t have large parts of land where you can put a Toyota factory in so you know we’re pretty much at full employment and anyone that wants a job can find a job in Owensboro,” said Watson. 

The small town's population contributes to the sense of community throughout the city. While essential businesses flourished during the shutdown, restaurants, nonprofits and other non-essential businesses struggled.

Restaurants have consistently struggled through the pandemic, now only being able to house 25 percent of their capacity. However, to provide relief, the city and fiscal court came together to ensure restaurants weren’t charged for expanding to offer outdoor seating. Rent forgiveness programs were afforded $250,000 from the city, and bigger companies continued to lend a helping hand to nonprofits in need. 

Providing everything from shelter to food for those in need, the Daniel Pitino Shelter has been a staple in the Owensboro community for 25 years.

During the height of the pandemic, supplies were scarce and funds were low, but when Watson heard they needed help providing meat, he was eager to help connect them with SFG (Safety Food Groups LLC.). The communal spirit that the group was able to show, Watson says embodies the true meaning of what it means to be Team Kentucky.

“They say you know our residents haven’t had meat for close to six weeks, so you pick up the phone and call SFG and ask if you can help them and then next thing you know there’s 3000 pounds of meat taken to the shelter and that’s what everybody does and then when SFG needs something you know it's just really kind of cool you know, it's like a great big old neighborhood,” said Watson. 

The unemployment rate for the state of Kentucky has seen a decline since the height of the pandemic, dropping from 16.6 percent in April to 4.3 percent in June.