According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the number of unemployed county residents increased to 7.1 percent of the workforce in May, from 6.5 percent in April. There were 278 more unemployed residents in May, but also a gain of 100 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector. Some economists say the gains in the area's leisure and hospitality sector are part of a greater trend across the state and a possible indication of economic improvement.
Though the county's unemployment rate grew slightly in May, it was still lower than during the same month last year, which was 7.5 percent. The statistics show the county had 4,800 people in May employed in leisure and hospitality, which includes hotels and restaurants — an increase from 4,700 people employed in that sector in April.
Meanwhile, the state's unemployment rate dropped slightly to 6.8 percent in May from 6.9 percent in April, with a gain of 6,215 jobs. Of those, 4,200 jobs were in the leisure and hospitality sector, the statistics show.
James Cover, economist at the University of Alabama, said the job growth in the leisure and hospitality sector is a possible sign more residents are confident about the economy and are willing to spend more money.
"You would expect this number to improve as the economy improves," Cover said of the job growth.
Keivan Deravi, economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said that though the leisure and hospitality sector typically gains jobs during the summer, the statistics take that into account and are adjusted accordingly.
"They adjust for the summer season, so those numbers must be growth in the sector," Deravi said.
Rhonda Brown, manager of Long Leaf Lodge at McClellan, said her hotel has had improved business in recent months.
"Now through the end of August I'm booked," Brown said Friday.
Brown said her hotel is seeing more business among cyclists interested in the biking trails around the county. Efforts have been underway for years to turn Calhoun County into a hub for cycling and mountain biking. A project is underway to expand mountain biking trails on Coldwater Mountain.
But the hotel is also seeing more business from weddings, she said.
"We will be busy during the summer with wedding parties ... and then those in the wedding parties stay here," she said.
Brown added the the front entrance of the Long Leaf Lodge was recently renovated and updated due to business growth.
Larry Fidel, president of the Alabama Hospitality Association, said leisure and hospitality has improved considerably in recent years since the recession hit in 2008.
"Alabama has become a more important tourism state," Fidel said. "Tourism increases here every year."
Apart from its beaches, Alabama has much outdoor recreation to offer, such as mountains, hiking and biking trails and various golf courses, Fidel said.
"The state has done a wonderful job of marketing its wonders," Fidel said.
Cover said, however, that though people are spending more money on tourism, the economy is still in a long recovery phase.
"The people who have jobs have been doing better," Cover said. "The problem is the people who don't have jobs."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.