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Chamber of Commerce helping to solve the problem

Low unemployment affecting metro Jackson businesses

JACKSON – This may not be a record year for low unemployment in Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties, but regardless of that, businesses are still feeling the effects of the low numbers.

For November, the latest figures, released last week were 4.9% in the state of Mississippi – that’s down from October’s 5.2%. Hinds was at 4.1%, Rankin at 2.3% and Madison was at 2.8%.

Jan Garrick, director of communications at the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC), said she has heard many businesses complaining of the tight job market.

“They’re having problems finding qualified applicants,” she said. “We run the employment service here and we still report that thousands of jobs statewide are open. Hundreds in the Jackson area.”

The jobs that are harder to fill, Garrick said, are those that require higher skill levels. “It’s because of Mississippi’s traditional lower educational level,” she said. “That’s just a problem from our past that we’re working on…but we’re not there yet.”

The Workforce Investment Act requires that training, instead of merely referring employees, must be done. MESC is working with the community college system to provide that training to employees.

Garrick believes Mississippi’s problems are similar to some of its neighboring states, but said, “I still think that we only in the last couple of decades started placing so much emphasis on education, and it takes time to get a better trained workforce.” She added that when Nissan comes to the area, more worker training will have to take place.

Job market belongs to employees now

“Usually it’s people chasing jobs,” Garrick said. “Now it’s employers chasing people.”

Duane O’Neill, president of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce is working with the Area Employers Council to bring businesses and employees to the area.“We’re gearing up to expand the workforce right now,” he said.

This is being done through not only a recruitment process but also through training. “It (the low unemployment rate) is an issue,” O’Neill said. “The numbers are low and it is a problem. However, we need to note that some figures don’t show the underemployed.”

O’Neill said the low unemployment rate could become a domino effect in the workforce. “We like seeing people better themselves but at the same time when someone changes jobs, everybody’s affected,” he said. “With some of the good news we’ve had recently with economic development, these workers are going to be even harder to come by in the future.”

Local businesses having problems

finding highly skilled employees

Johnnie R. Wright, manager of human resources at Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution Inc. in Jackson, said the low unemployment rate has had a minimal effect on his company due to the low turnover rate.

“The only problem area has been in recruiting for experienced electrical engineers,” he said.

IBM-Jackson has also felt some effects from the low unemployment rate.

“The labor market is extremely competitive,” said Bill Moore, senior location executive. “In fact, the war continues in our industry to attract and retain top technical talent. IBM offers leading work-life programs and competitive benefits in order to attract qualified people from the talent pool.”

Regardless of the effects the low unemployment rate has had on businesses though, O’Neill said it is not such a bad thing to have.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he said. “I’d much rather have the problem of having low rather than high unemployment.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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