Employment statistics in the Brownwood area have improved significantly this spring from an already healthy position, members of the Brownwood Economic Development Corp. board were told this week.

James Campbell, executive director, presented his monthly eight-county overview of jobs information, highlighting an overall decrease in unemployment rates. The statistics covered the months of February and March, the latest months for which information is available.

“The unemployment rates dropped significantly,” Campbell said, and the number of people employed — especially in Brown County — was up by 113 even as the number of people in the labor force went up by 48.

“We’re very pleased,” Campbell said. “We’re seeing a nice trend as the number of people employed continues to grow.”

Brown County’s employment rate dropped from 4.6 to 4.1 percent between February and March, while the labor force rose from 19,574 to 19,622. The number listed as unemployed fell from 905 to 810.

Coleman County’s jobless rate fell went from 4.4 percent to 4.0 percent between the two months. Comanche County’s jobless rate rate went from 4.4 percent to 4.1 percent. Callahan County’s jobless rate was down from 3.9 percent to 3.4 percent, and Eastland County’s rate went from 4.6 to 4.2. McCulloch County went from 4.5 to 4.1, Mills County went from 4.1 to 3.8, and San Saba County dropped from 5.0 to 4.5.

The unemployment rate in Texas during February was 4.7 and in the United States, 4.9 percent. Rates in March were 4.2 in Texas and 4.5 in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Campbell reviewed sales tax receipts with the board. Funding for the BEDC comes from a half-cent sales tax on retail purchases made in the city.

“Sales tax receipts were up in both March and April, and the trend is the same in May,” Campbell said. “They are pretty good increases. We’ve gotten through the first half of the (fiscal) year well above 50 percent of what we had budgeted.”

Meanwhile, expenses were described as on track for the first six months of the year, running from October through March.

“Our investment income is up because interest rates are up a little bit, and our fund balances are a little higher,” Campbell said.

City of Brownwood Finance Director Walter Middleton presented his quarterly report, which showed that the BEDC had added $292,254 to its balance while withdrawing about $67,000, leaving a $1.42 million balance.

“This is the high point of the the last three years,” Middleton said. A contributing factor to revenue gains, in addition to sales tax increases, has been a rise in interest rates.

Middleton said the BEDC is earning 5.28 percent on its investments with TexPool and 5.29 percent with TexStar, when the rate during the first quarter of 2005 was 2.5 percent. It was even less during the first of 2004, Middleton said, but those figures were not immediately available.

In other business, the board agreed to participate in a railway infrastructure improvement project with Texas Rock Crusher Railway to help add a switch to serve a rail spur running to Bluebonnet Feeds and other potential clients along that route.

Jason Gill, general manager, said the railway has invested $1 million in track improvements along the tracks running from the downtown area into Camp Bowie over the past four years.

“The rain has been a big problem,” Gill told the board. “It washes out the foundation under the rails and the cross ties.”

The improvements have all but eliminated derailments along the route.

“All of these little sidings on spurs haven’t been used much, and there have been drainage issues,” Campbell said. “A lot of those ties have rotted out.”

Many of the tracks — and cross ties — date back to the original Camp Bowie installation in the early 1940s, he added.

On a related matter, Campbell said discussions are continuing among several partners, including Brown County Commissioner Steve Adams, regarding the condition of Stephen F. Austin Road in the Camp Bowie industrial area. While in the county, it is in the City of Brownwood’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Campbell said the Texas Department of Transportation cannot work on the road because it’s off its system, but officials have been approached for planning assistance to make it more viable as an industrial artery.

“We’ve got a lot of people involved,” Campbell said. “We also have a lot of rail crossings to consider if in fact we do upgrade the roadway. It’s carrying more truck traffic than it ever has, even during the Camp Bowie days.”

The road was built as part of Camp Bowie as has not been improved since then.