VOL. 114 | NO. 44 | Monday, March 6, 2000
By LAURIE JOHNSON
Record employment marks start of century for Tennessee
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
During the first month of the new century, virtually everybody who wanted a job had a job in Tennessee, according to the latest employment figures released by the states Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In January, the states unemployment rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.5 percent, the lowest level since 1978. And, for the first time, the number of the states unemployed dipped below 100,000.
"The number of people unemployed in Tennessee fell to 98,100, which means there were fewer people out of work in the state than ever before," said Michael Magill, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. "Also, the number of people employed reached a record high of 2,730,800."
The January figures are an indicator that the states economy is continuing to grow, Magill said.
On a national scale, Tennessees unemployment rate is significantly lower than the U.S. average.
In January, unemployment throughout the nation averaged 4 percent, a one-tenth decrease from the previous month and lower than the 4.3 percent recorded in January 1999, according to the states latest labor report. Last January, Tennessees jobless rate was 4.2 percent, a decline of seven-tenths of one percent from the unemployment average recorded the year before.
During the month, employment increased the most in the health services industry, which added 1,700 employees. Hiring activity also was brisk in the chemical industry, which added 300 jobs.
Employment declined among seasonal industries in January, a typical trend during the cold winter months. The trade sector lost 31,600 jobs; 9,800 construction positions were eliminated and the service industry lost 9,500 jobs.
Year-to-date, however, eliminating seasonal trends, the service industry posted the highest gains in employment, adding 29,700 jobs, which represented almost half of the growth in business services.
The trade industry added 7,100 jobs, and durable goods manufacturing added 4,200 employees.
Employment declined in the non-durable goods market, which posted a loss of 3,000 jobs. The loss of 4,000 jobs in apparel and 1,000 jobs in chemicals offset increases in the number of employees hired in the paper, printing, and rubber and plastics sectors.
The personal service industry also took a hit, losing 1,900 jobs. The financial sector also suffered, losing 1,100 jobs.
In Tennessee, Williamson County, in the Nashville metropolitan statistical area, had the lowest unemployment 1.9 percent. Sevier County - at 12.9 percent - reported the states highest unemployment rate.
Unemployment rose slightly in Shelby County, up from 3.1 percent in December to 3.6 percent in January.
The jobless rate also rose in other parts of the Memphis metropolitan statistical area.
Fayette Countys unemployment rate rose 1.7 percent, from 3.3 percent in December to 5 percent in January. Tipton Countys jobless rate also increased, from 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent. West Memphis rate rose to 5 percent from 3.8 percent.
At 2.8 percent, Northwest Mississippi posted the lowest unemployment levels in the Memphis MSA, up from 2.3 percent in December.
Such a tight labor market can make it difficult for employers to find good workers. It can, however, be an ideal environment for prospective employees, as businesses come up with creative ways to lure the cream of the crop.
"Skilled workers are going for a premium," said Tom Justice, executive vice president of Bowden Homes. "Even nonskilled labor is going for a premium. In many cases, even if you lack the skills necessary for the job, the employer is willing to train you to do whatever it is they need."
As a result, people who might have been making only $8 to $10 per hour are learning skills that can move them up to higher paying positions, he said.
Employers also must become more creative in recruiting, said Mark Brannon, owner of Brannon Professionals, a Southaven, Miss.-based employment firm that specializes in placing clerical and professional workers throughout the Memphis MSA.
Some employers offer incentives such as sign-on bonuses; others advertise for workers continually, even when there are no positions open, he said.
In the past, Bowden could rely completely on prospective employees coming to them; today, the company has to do some searching on its own, Justice said.
"In the past, we had just relied on word of mouth," he said. "Weve actually had to run classified ads in the last six months, and the positions have all been quickly filled."
Offering training and benefits also have been effective in luring new hires, he said.
He said the firm was willing to provide training for workers they believed had potential, and the company also pays full health benefits for its employees.
"That can be worth $3,000 to $4,000 a year. We feel thats a significant advantage to working at Bowden," he said.
Employers also compete for workers by offering higher wages.
"Weve had to pay people more," said Ken Garland Jr., vice president of local building and development firm Ken Garland Cos. "It seems like every year, the price of subcontract labor has continually gone up. Were paying now upwards of $4 or $5 per foot to get a house framed, where a couple of years ago we paid $3 to $3.50 per foot."
Brannon agreed wages have been getting higher, beyond just the typical cost of living increases.
The Memphis areas healthy employment environment is expected to extend into spring, according to Manpower Inc.s latest poll of business workforce plans.
Of the local companies responding to its second quarter employment outlook survey, 43 percent plan to recruit more workers in April, May and June, while 10 percent expect to cut back and 47 percent report they plan to make no changes, said Manpower spokesperson Maury Radin.
During the same period last year, 36 percent expected to add staff and 6 percent predicted personnel reductions. "In many markets, the spring quarter signals a pick-up in hiring following the slower-paced winter season," Radin said.
According to the survey, employers in manufacturing, transportation, utilities, finance, insurance, real estate, education and the service industries expect to do the most hiring. Public administration employers expect to downsize, the survey reported mixed responses from employers in the wholesale/retail industry.
Nationally, employers are expected to get little relief from the lengthy worker shortage as 32 percent of the nearly 16,000 companies interviewed indicated they planned to increase employment in the upcoming quarter; 6 percent said they planned to reduce staff; 58 reported no changes were planned and 4 percent were undecided.