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Unemployment rates in south Alabama in December fell below the national average for the first time since 2009. Mobile County's unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, down from 9.1 percent in November and 9.7 percent in November 2010. South Mississippi unemployment rates have also been falling, according to the latest figures, but exhibit a more up and down trajectory than south Alabama's. In Jackson County, for example, the November rate was 10.1 percent, down from 10.7 percent in October but up from 9.2 percent in November 2010.

Scott King, director of research and policy at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council, said in the months and days leading up to the storm, there was a lot Converse Gold Iridescent

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Regardless of what part of the Gulf Coast one is talking about, some things about the employment picture remain the same as they were 10, 20 years ago school systems, hospitals and governments are still the top non manufacturing employers, for instance.

"I remember that 10,000 people had applied for 1,000 jobs, and that was in a pretty good economy," King said.

Speculation on what it will take to spark a true turnaround varies. A change in national leadership and an improved economy at the national level are oft given answers, but other factors are particular to various parts of the coast. Employment in Baldwin County and all of coastal Mississippi, for example, is heavily reliant on tourism.

View full sizeJackson County's largest employers

Economic development officials in south Alabama and Mississippi admit the shock of losing a $600 million, 1,500 worker aircraft assembly plant at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex that would have grown up had the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. Air Force tanker contract. But that's starting to Converse Shoes Womens Cheap

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There are similar stories in Mississippi, which continues to try and recapture the excitement and momentum that was in the air just before Hurricane Katrina flattened the coast in 2005.

The latest numbers suggest that "we are starting to see the curve on the other side," said Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

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of anticipation about the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the first major gaming venue to open on the Coast since the Beau Rivage.

Since he doesn't have a crystal ball, he said, he's not sure when that will happen. It will, he said, take longer than one year.

However, there have been changes on the list of top employers. In many cases, the growth of Walmart has pushed out locally owned grocers such as Mobile's Autry Greer Sons Inc. But some noteworthy newcomers have emerged, such as Louisiana's Rouses Supermarkets making a thus far successful foray into south Mississippi, according to the Harrison County Development Commission.

where we are no longer referencing pre Katrina, where we set the new standard," King said. "And I don't think that will happen in 2012."

wear off, they said, and positive developments such as expansions of existing businesses, new employers and prospects suggest that a turnaround could be in the cards. Although far from the lows of the mid 2000s, unemployment is generally on a slow, downward slide, according to the latest figures.

South Mississippi was well on its way to recovering from Katrina when the recession hit in 2008, he said, a situation that was further exacerbated by the oil spill in 2010.

"There are expansions of existing industry," Wayman said. "You've got Austal (shipyard in Mobile) ramping up to get to their 4,000 goal I believe they're hiring 130 people per month at this point. You've got Aker Solutions Converse Navy Leather who have expanded and need to hire people. TK (German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp AG) is still ramping up in the stainless side. We've got some good stories and some good news that relates to job creation."

Gulf Coast employment picture starting to brighten after a few dark years

Some constants, along with change

Coast Guard cutter Stratton's crew prepares to leave Ingalls Shipbuilding's Pascagoula yard. (File photo)

"Our focus now is to get back to a point Converse Tactical Boots

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