The economic downturn that has affected much of the nation has extended to Union County.

Unemployment on rise for five consecutive months

The economic downturn that has affected much of the nation has extended to Union County.

According to statistics from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, unemployment in Union County has been on the rise for the past five months and has nearly doubled in the past year.

Recently released unemployment statistics for Union County for March show an estimated 2,100 unemployment claims in the month, for a rate of 8.4 percent. Those rates are up sharply from March 2008, when the number of unemployment claims in Union County was estimated at 1,200 and the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.

The average unemployment rate for Union County in 2008 was 5.2 percent, with a low of 4.3 percent reported in April 2008.

The news hasn't been that good in 2009.

The county unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in November 2008 and has risen each month since. The December 2008 jobless rate was 6.1 percent, followed by 7.6 percent in January, 8 percent in February and 8.4 percent in March.

The silver lining behind that financial cloud is that Union County has fared better than both the state and national averages. Ohio's unemployment rate for March was 9.7 percent, while the U.S. rate was 8.5 percent.

Other central Ohio counties and their March unemployment rates included: Delaware (6.4), Franklin County (7.8), Fairfield (8.1), Licking (9.6), Madison (9.8) and Pickaway (10.5).

Honda of America affected by auto industry woes

Associates at Marysville's Honda of America plant are pondering a difficult decision.

Honda spokesman Ron Lietzke confirmed reports Thursday that associates are being offered incentives to take early retirement or end their employment with the company.

"We're offering these special incentives to our associates on a volunteer basis," Lietzke said. "It's important to point out that both of these programs are entirely voluntary to participate in. We're not forcing anybody to leave."

Associates near retirement are being offered an early-retirement incentive.

Lietzke said that what is known as the Special Voluntary Retirement Opportunity program will add three years of service to an associate's career. For example, one who has been with the company for 17 years would get credit for 20 years of service.

The second program offers associates considerable cash sums to leave current positions and start a new career. Under the program, associates would receive a severance payment equal to one year's base wage. That amount would be paid over a 12-month period. They would also receive a lump-sum severance payment of $1,000 for each year of service and a lump-sum payment of $17,000.

Under that plan, an associate who makes $50,000 a year and has been with the company for 20 years could leave the company and receive a severance package of $87,000.

"Basically this provides a financial incentive if an associate wants to leave and start a new career," Lietzke said. He said the incentives are part of a plan being implemented by Honda to remain competitive in the auto industry and be well positioned for the future when the economy rebounds.

"In recent months, we have been adjusting our production in response to what's going on in the industry," Lietzke said. "What we are doing helps us adjust our production. It's part of managing our business. In order to remain competitive, we need to balance our production and our staffing levels."

Honda recently notified associates at the Marysville auto plant about additional production adjustments that will affect operations at facilities in North America.

The cost-cutting measures were wide-ranging.

Honda's auto plants will have a normal production schedule in April, but from May through July, there will be 13 additional nonproduction days.

The 13 nonproduction days will reduce Honda's North American auto production by 62,000 cars and light trucks from May through July.

To minimize impact on associates and their families, Honda is spreading out these days so that there are no than two per month in May, June and July. Associates also will have the option to cover these days with vacation or take them off with no pay.