By BECKY GILLETTE
Unemployment is at its lowest rate in decades in Mississippi. That sounds good and it is for workers. But this low unemployment rate is “absolutely” a problem for small businesses, said National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Mississippi State Director Ron Aldridge.
“Mississippi’s recent historic low unemployment rates and record-breaking number of workers with jobs is a great picture of our state’s economic advancements and deserve being applauded,” said Aldridge said. “However, these indicators mask a significant resulting employment problem which negatively impacts all employers, but particularly small businesses — a labor availability shortage and especially the quality or skill level of such available workers to meet existing and newly created job needs.”
Aldridge said two key federal policy changes within the past year — tax reform and deregulation — have been a driving force to not only move small business optimism to 35-year record levels and provide them greater certainty for the future, but have also reduced employer costs and freed up capital to create new jobs and increase worker pay at historic levels, invest in equipment upgrades and needs, and expand their businesses.
“In fact, with these two policy changes, taxes and regulations are no longer the top small business problems,” Aldridge said. “Now the single most important problem for small business, according to NFIB’s Economic Trends Survey, is the availability and quality of labor.”
According to NFIB’s May 2018 Economic Trends Survey, 58 percent of small business reported hiring or trying to hire new workers, but with 83 percent of those hiring or trying to hire reporting few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.
“The overall trend of new jobs being created and increased wages hits small business the hardest in terms of competition for available workers, with larger businesses generally able to pay more and provide greater benefits and thereby lure many of small business’ best workers to higher paying jobs in other businesses,” Aldridge said. “In order for small businesses to compete in hiring and retaining good workers, NFIB’s most recent May Survey shows reports of small business compensation increases hit a 45-year record high over NFIB’s Survey history.”
Aldridge said it is obvious many Mississippi small businesses are still having difficult times and have not been a part of this record-breaking optimism that has also reported (NFIB May Survey) the highest positive sales trends since 1995 and a 45-year NFIB Survey record high for positive earnings trends. That puts them at even a greater disadvantage in competing for workers—skilled and unskilled—which can certainly lead them to the unfortunate position of not being able to keep up with competitors or even survive.
“It’s even a greater problem in the many rural areas of our state where the available workforce is aging out and the younger ones are moving out,” Aldridge said. “Population growth, whether in these rural areas or in more economically developed areas, is a problem for Mississippi for now and the future in order to keep up and be prepared for increased economic growth that benefits our entire state.”
As state economic developers are successful in bringing a significant manufacturer or other type business to our state, it puts a hardship on our smaller businesses in retaining their better employees, Aldridge said.
“We’ve got to also focus on growing our citizenry or available workers at the same time we’re targeting the growth of good-paying jobs,” he said. “Mississippi is fortunate to see several rural small towns where young people are moving in and creating new businesses—thereby spurring economic growth for existing businesses as well.
“This trend of more young entrepreneurs is ever growing in Mississippi and in the years ahead our state will reap great benefit in all areas of the state. Many great entrepreneur programs are being created in our colleges as well as in high school helping advance this job creation and community growth. However, at the same time these new young entrepreneurs are no longer available as workers for other employers as in the past.”
With fewer and fewer skilled workers available, most of the available workforce are generally unskilled. However, small business has always been the number one entry level trainer of Mississippi’s and America’s workforce. Aldridge said in spite of this ability, small business is finding fewer and fewer trainable unskilled workers even available.
But he is excited about an educational movement occurring in Mississippi that can significantly improve this skilled labor shortage, the expansion of CTE or “Career Technical Education” in middle and high schools, in community colleges, and through various trade groups. Educational leaders are working right now with the business community in trying to create new and relevant curriculum and courses that can supply the workforce needs of our businesses, large and small.
“There’s not anything that can hold Mississippi’s economic future back if we’ll continue working together to solve these and other vital issues for the backbone of our economy and every community, small business and its employees,” Aldridge said.
People looking for a job or who need employees should take advantage of the services of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES).
“Our workforce technology data system, MS Works, enable the employer to be more competitive in seeking qualified candidates and the job seeker to be more selective in their career choice,” said Robert Freeman, area director, Twin Districts Workforce Area (TDWA) for MDES s. Employers can search for candidates in MS Works by registering at mdes.ms.gov.”
Freeman said the MDES staff in the WIN Job Centers have not noticed a significant impact from the low unemployment rate in being able to find workers for job listings.
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