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VOL. 127 | NO. 50 | Tuesday, March 13, 2012

‘Positive Message’

Hiring figures, job fairs signal encouraging – albeit slow – turnaround

By Andy Meek

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The most recent figures from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development show a falling jobless rate for the Memphis metro area.

Warren Vaughn of The ServiceMaster Co. speaks to prospective candidates at a job fair at the East Memphis Hilton hotel on Saturday to fill nearly 100 IT positions for the company.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

New, more current figures will be out later this month that show the area’s latest unemployment picture. But in the meantime, the Memphis area has played host to one job fair after another in recent days, while across the state there have been more than 20 such fairs in the past 15 months.

The fairs have run the gamut of industries and have cumulatively held out the hope of hundreds of new jobs. The Great American Steamboat Co., for example, scheduled a career fair at the Memphis Cook Convention Center Feb. 21 as the company works to fill positions and hire more than 300 employees for its opulent riverboat that will see its maiden voyage next month.

On Feb. 23, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. held a job fair at Embassy Suites Hotel in East Memphis as part of its effort to recruit workers for its new transformer plant in the city.

MEPPI is filling salaried positions in accounting, information technology, manufacturing, engineering and quality assurance. Hiring will be followed by extensive training in Memphis and Japan, so candidates must be able to travel to Japan for extended periods.

A few days ago, an employment workshop and job fair was held in Millington at the NSA Pat Thompson Conference Center. That free event was open to National Guard members, reservists and all veterans and military spouses.

Mahaffey Tent & Party Rentals hosted a job fair March 10 at its headquarters, 4161 Delp St. The company is hiring for a variety of positions, including local tent installers and warehouse staff, national supervisors and tent installers, warehouse and manufacturing staff, and national project managers.

That same day, The ServiceMaster Co. held a job fair at the East Memphis Hilton as part of its plan to hire 100 new information technology workers for positions ranging from technical support to management.

All of the positions will be based in Memphis supporting the ServiceMaster home and commercial services American Home Shield, Merry Maids, Terminix, TruGreen, AmeriSpec and Furniture Medic. Those jobs are among 350 local jobs ServiceMaster will add through June.

The company is adding 6,700 jobs nationally during the same period. Most of the jobs require experience and a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences or a related field, while an associate’s degree is acceptable for some of the jobs.

Economists have allowed themselves some optimism because of recent employment figures. In February, the U.S. added 227,000 jobs as part of what’s been the strongest three months of job growth since the worst of the recession.

The national unemployment rate, however, stayed unchanged at 8.3 percent.

“Since peaking in March 2009, the four-week moving average of initial claims for unemployment insurance has fallen steadily and is now approaching a level that signals a broader economic recovery is taking hold,” said Dr. Robert Trimm, economist with Legacy Wealth Management in Memphis. “I think it is possible that we could break below an 8 percent unemployment rate this year, but downward movements will be slow. In addition, we have seen gradual improvements in hours worked and earnings – small increases, but better than going the other way.

“All in all, I think that the job market has improved as evidenced by the fall in initial claims data, and that the jobs market may be more healthy than what is currently being signaled by the unemployment rate.”

Chris Low, chief economist for FTN Financial, which is a division of First Tennessee Bank, said recent employment data provides a “start” toward getting the nation back on better economic footing.

“The jobs picture has been improving for some time,” Low said Friday, March 9, during his most recent economic update conference call. “But it’s still not fantastic. We need sustained job growth of more than 300,000 if we’re going to make a significant dent in the rate of unemployment.

“At the current rate of job creation, assuming we do not have a recession and assuming the labor force stabilizes and starts to grow again … you will see people coming back into the labor force to look for work. Putting all those assumptions in place, we still don’t see the unemployment rate falling to something like full employment for many, many years. But this is a start, and that’s a positive message in the data.”

PROPERTY SALES 128 234 13,285
MORTGAGES 80 152 8,323