07/30/07 — Employment two-edged sword for recruiters

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Employment two-edged sword for recruiters

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 30, 2007 1:46 PM

Joanna Thompson, president of the Wayne County Development Alliance, looks at unemployment rates a little different than others.

To her, a slightly higher unemployment rate isn't necessarily bad.

"If a county has a 5 percent unemployment rate, companies consider that full employment," she said. "It's a challenge because we know that 5 percent needs to be employed, but that's not a strong number if a company's looking to move to an area.

"We have specifically lost projects due to our low unemployment. That doesn't happen constantly, but it has happened in the past."

The problem, she explained, is that if a county has a low unemployment rate, companies worry that they may not be able to find enough qualified workers.

For example, she continued, when AAR announced it was coming to Goldsboro, interest in Wayne County immediately declined.

"When you have announcements like that or you have existing industry expanding, it's difficult to convince another industry that you have an available workforce," Thompson said.

Conversely, she continued, "it's kind of ironic when you have a closure. That can actually be a boon for you. Most people look at closures and layoffs as a negative mark on your economy, but actually it can work in your favor.

In Wayne County, however, the fact that the unemployment rate often sits around 5 percent -- 5.1 percent in June -- can sometimes be slightly misleading.

"We have a lot of underemployment. We have a lot of people who might be working, but are waiting for a better job to come around," Thompson said. "Having a low unemployment rate is a good thing, but it doesn't mean 95 percent are at the salary they should be."

And so the challenge is to explain that to companies and to bring that remaining 5 percent of available workforce up to par.

To do that, the alliance is looking to hire an outside consultant to do a workforce profile later this year, as well as begin a new initiative to ensure students are graduating from high school with the ability to acquire the basic skills needed for a variety of careers.

"Workforce is the number one in considering a location. Workforce really is what you are as a community. It determines what kind of industry you can attract," she said.