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Rob Ryser | June 16, 2021 | Updated: June 17, 2021 7:54 a.m.
Expert: Danbury area leads CT in job growth as nation begins recovery from the COVID recession
DANBURY — The good news is the COVID-19 recession is not only over, but the nation is in recovery, an expert told business leaders on Wednesday during an economic forecast presentation.
While Connecticut may not be rebounding with the same strength as the rest of the nation from the worst recession since World War II, the Danbury area is leading the recovery with the strongest job growth in the state.
“We have heard no official call from the National Bureau of Economic Research, but there is every indication that we have decidedly moved into recovery — although not so much in Connecticut,” said Donald Klepper-Smith, a veteran New Haven economist. “Danbury is on the rebound and clearly making progress.”
What that means for the Hat City and the seven surrounding towns that make up the Danbury Labor Market Area is that unemployment will continue to drop, and employment will continue to grow by 200 jobs each month, Klepper-Smith projected.
“Danbury is outperforming the rest of the state and is poised for growth,” said Klepper-Smith, referring to a Danbury labor market that includes Bethel, Brookfield, Bridgewater, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, and Sherman. “You were down 17,000 jobs at the worst (of the coronavirus crisis) but you have gained 10,000 since April 2020, because you folks have done a better job.”
Klepper-Smith shared statistics during an hourlong Zoom presentation for the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce showing Danbury with a 6.6 percent unemployment rate — the lowest of the state’s nine labor markets, and a full percentage point lower than the state’s 7.6 percent jobless rate. The national unemployment rate is 5.7 percent. The state’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in February 2020, according to a state report.
P.J. Prunty, the Danbury chamber’s president and CEO, said the economist’s partly sunny forecast confirmed for business leaders the good news they’ve been seeing on the streets for weeks.
“I thought the presentation reaffirmed some of the conversations and statements we’ve been hearing anecdotally, because when you see the data, it shows that we were struggling, but we are rebounding and coming back fast,” Prunty said.
Prunty is referring to unprecedented joblessness after the COVID-19 crisis in the spring of 2020, when the nation lost 21 million jobs. Connecticut lost 269,000 jobs in one month.
“That’s twice the number of all the jobs that were created in Connecticut during the previous 10 years,” Klepper-Smith said. “When we talk about economic devastation, we have no precedent for this. This is unfathomable.”
The climb back from devastation got a boost with the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress in March. Connecticut’s lifting of business restrictions in May as vaccination rates increased contributed to a growing sense of optimism, Prunty said after the presentation.
“Certainly, there are some challenges ahead, but I think this confidence will continue to grow,” Prunty said.
The president of Newtown Savings Bank agreed.
“As we approach the end of what — God willing — is the end of this slow-motion nightmare that we have all been living through, we recognize ... the incredible efforts and the bravery of our health care workers and first responders,” said Ken Weinstein, whose bank sponsored the economic forecast presentation. “We also want to recognize what businesses have done to keep customers safe and to keep people employed.”
Weinstein added it was a privilege to have an economist of Klepper-Smith’s pedigree to present the economic forecast.
Among other things, Klepper-Smith was chairman of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Economic Advisory Council from 2007 to 2010.
“I don’t remember him predicting COVID,” Weinstein quipped. “But other than that, he has been very reliable.”