Virginia's unemployment rate fell to a three-year low in January, despite job declines across a majority of the state's industries over the last month, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday.

Figures released Tuesday by the Virginia Employment Commission show that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in January was 5.8 percent. That's down from 6.2 percent in December and 6.4 percent in January 2011.

McDonnell made the announcement with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and state Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng at Richmond-based James River Air Conditioning Co. during an appearance intended to highlight the state's economic-development achievements over the past two years.

Virginia's unemployment rate had been decreasing since peaking at 7.3 percent in December 2010, but had risen slightly from July through September last year.

The state's January rate is below the national average, which dropped to 8.3 percent in January.

McDonnell touted the 150-employee company's growth from its beginnings as a one-man, one-truck operation in 1967 as a success story that should be replicated, with the help of tools such as targeted tax incentives and long-term investments in education and transportation.

"Unfortunately, some companies didn't fare as well" as James River during the recession that started in 2008, and had to close or consolidate operations, but the state is beginning to emerge from the downturn, McDonnell said.

McDonnell said that his administration's primary goal is to create jobs and attract new business to Virginia - despite the focus during the recently ended General Assembly session on his support of legislation involving conservative social issues such as abortion restrictions, repealing Virginia's one-handgun-a-month law, and tax credits for underwriting private-school tuition.

Cheng and state economic development officials have opened up trade offices in India and China, which are expected to yield large export gains for the state, he said. Virginia also has attracted corporations that have moved their headquarters from other states, including Northrop Grumman and Bechtel. Others planning significant facilities in the state include Microsoft Corp. and Amazon, he said.

He also said Virginia has cut spending rather than raise taxes, and is working to reduce what he called regulatory and unionization burdens in an effort to further improve the state's employment prospects.

Nationwide, unemployment rates fell in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. One state saw its rate increase and four states saw no changes.

Virginia's unadjusted unemployment rate, which doesn't account for seasonal employment changes, rose to 6 percent in January, the VEC said. That's slightly above the December 2011 rate, but nearly 1 percentage point lower than a year ago.

Officials said Virginia's nonfarm employment decreased by 64,500 jobs from December in January but was still 1.3 percent above January 2011.

Year-to-year, the construction and finance sectors each increased January employment by 2.9 percent and private education and health services saw 2.8 percent employment gains. Mining jobs grew by 1.9 percent and trade and transportation jobs rose by 1.5 percent.

The VEC said 63,508 Virginians were receiving regular unemployment benefits in January. That's up from 54,434 in December but down from 81,851 in January 2011.


Associated Press business writer Michael Felberbaum contributed to this report.