CHIPLEY - Holmes County led the region in growth in employment and decline in unemployment, according to recent data from CareerSource Chipola.

February data shows unemployment has decrease by 1 percent over last year and a 0.6 percent from January. Meanwhile, the number of employed has increased by 132 individuals over last year and a staggering 91 from last month.

CareerSource Chipola Executive Director Richard Williams says he is "encouraged" by the data, but reluctant to qualify it as a sign of long-term change.

"I am encouraged by signs that our decline in both labor force and actual employment are reversing," he said. However, "I’m not going to be doing a happy dance until this trend continues for several months - as a change over a month or two doesn’t necessarily mean things have actually changed long term."

Across the region, which also includes Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson and Liberty counties, unemployment fell by a 0.8 percent and an increase in its labor force and employment numbers. Williams noted the data is salient considering, since the recession, rural counties across the country have experienced a population shrinkage, as well as, a decline in its labor force and actual employment.

"The one-year gain of 132 extra employed individuals in the county is a good sign for Holmes County," Williams said. "That represents a 2-percent gain in employment over a year and that is a very good sign. The key will be to see if this trend continues in the coming months."

Washington County is following the regional unemployment trend.

February data shows unemployment has decrease by nearly 0.8 percent over last year and a half-percent from January. Meanwhile, the number of employed has increased by 166 individuals over last year.

Williams said the way to continue this trend lies in creating attractive counties for job growth.

"The key for our counties to attract new jobs and have existing companies expand is to have the workforce these companies need," he added. "An increase in the size of the labor force and the number of people actually employed make it easier to grow our local economy."

Statewide unemployment decreased by 0.6 percent.