By Tim Hofmann

Nebraska News Service

Since the pandemic started disrupting businesses across Nebraska in mid March, 284 people from Knox County have filed for unemployment.

That's 5.9 percent of the county's labor force who have been affected, according to a U.S. Department of Labor estimate of the number of workers from when the pandemic began.

When compared to the 47 other counties in the state where the Nebraska Department of Labor provided local data, Knox County's percentage ranks 46th.

Not included in the numbers are how many workers were permanently laid off, have been rehired at new jobs or brought back after a temporary furlough.

President and CEO of the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce Denise Wilkinson said there is hope, but some places are on the edge.

"I talked to a few businesses yesterday that said if they had to shut down again they would be done," she said. "It's not because of customers, but it's because they can't get products in."

Wilkinson said she thinks the unemployment rate can get back down to normal in the near future.

"I think once we get a vaccine, there may be a new normal and a new way to get things, but I think we will get back," Wilkinson said.

Other counties in the region and their ranking by percent of the workforce out of 47 counties with data:

-- Platte County, 2,585 claims, 14.4 percent of the labor force, sixth in the state.

-- Madison County, 2,449 claims, 12.2 percent of the labor force, 14th in the state.

-- Dodge County, 2,327 claims, 11.7 percent of the labor force, 19th in the state.

-- Burt County,   358 claims, 10.1 percent of the labor force, 26th in the state.

-- Thurston County,   308 claims, 9.7 percent of the labor force, 29th in the state.

-- Dakota County, 1,037 claims, 9.4 percent of the labor force, 31st in the state.

-- Colfax County,   467 claims, 8.2 percent of the labor force, 39th in the state.

-- Pierce County,   279 claims, 6.7 percent of the labor force, 43rd in the state.

-- Cuming County,   314 claims, 6.5 percent of the labor force, 44th in the state.

-- Cedar County,   273 claims, 5.9 percent of the labor force, 45th in the state.

-- Boone County,   159 claims, 5.2 percent of the labor force, 47th in the state.

Other economic development and business officials around the state said they had a mix of hope and worry in the near term for businesses.

Executive Director of the South Central Economic Development District Sharon Hueftle said the economy in her district will get back to normal, but it will take some time.

"You can only hang on and after a while, it's like 'How long is it going to take to dig us out of this in the future?'" she said.

Executive Director of the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency Greg Youell said he was hopeful for steady improvement in business conditions.

"If we have another bad time and we have to shut things down again, that is going to really impact our economy and take us backward," he said. "I have no idea what is going to happen, or if we are going to reach a point where there's kind of immunity to the deal, and it's going to run its course. I anticipate that things are going to continue to improve."

Executive Director of the Southeast Nebraska Economic Development District Tom Bliss said the pandemic hasn't impacted the area his district covers as people expected.

"Something that is weird is what I'm hearing from everyone is that their sales tax numbers haven't decreased or impacted that much. What that says to me is that people in those communities are still shopping," he said. "We've created these programs, and they haven't even used all of the funding yet. Small businesses have somehow persevered without these local dollars."

Panhandle Area Development District Executive Director Jeff Kelley said as the pandemic changed society, business have changed with it.

"I think we have gotten used to the new normal. I'm sure some of the businesses that were affected have had to make those adjustments too," Kelley said. "Maybe some of these employers in the area are seeing a result from this that people can work remotely and it's not a need to have as many positions as they have recently."

President of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation Gary Person said many of the layoffs were temporary.

"I think we are seeing a resurgence of business coming back," he said. "I see good signs there. I think we are going to get back to where we were before with a little bit of impact on our total employment force.

"It's going to take a few months to get through all of that."

Central Nebraska Economic Development District Executive Director Judy Peterson said the numbers could have been worse.

"We have been able to weather the storm," she said. "We haven’t had as much in our region as far as reported cases. Some of the other ones are going to be a lot higher because we don’t have as many cases that are reported."

Bliss said there is still uncertainty on when or if the unemployment rate can return to normal.

"If you would've asked me that in March or April, I would've had a different answer for you than I do now," he said. "I would have tended to go with the 'Yeah, things are going to bounce back.' They still may, but now, I can't answer that question with confidence."