Jobs outlook offers little relief for area

September 25, 2009 9:49:00 AM



Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke may say the recession is over, but the recovery is a jobless one for the Golden Triangle so far. 


Few area businesses are making any additions to their workforces now or in the near future. 


Lowndes County had an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent for August, and "that''s just indicative of the job market and the economy right now," Columbus-Lowndes Development Link executive director Joe Max Higgins said. "I haven''t looked at the numbers since June, but they''ve seemed pretty steady. Since then, every county around us has had a rate of 14 or 15 percent or more." 


Unemployment rates for some municipalities, including Columbus, are also included in the state''s unemployment report. For August, the city''s rate was 17.3 percent, more than half again the rate of the county overall. 


"I don''t know why that is," Higgins said of the city''s rate, "but historically, it''s always been that way." 


No one answered the phone at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership on Thursday, and a message seeking comment from the West Point-Clay County Growth Alliance was not returned. 


Many business managers and human resource directors contacted for comment also did not return messages or want to talk about their staffing levels. 


Those that did comment, however,said they did not expect to be hiring anytime soon. 


"Our business is seasonal, so we''ve done any hiring we''re going to do until the spring," said APAC-Mississippi human resources director Pam McGee in Jackson. "We normally stop looking for people about this time of year and look to pick up in March, when the weather breaks." 


APAC has a division based in Columbus. 


Berneil Smith at Southern Roofing in West Point said the company has worked two crews in the past, but found one crew more efficient and staffs at that level now. The crew has had five men, but has three currently. 


"We''re going wide open ... but the kind of work we do, we don''t require a large crew," Smith said. "Knock on wood right now -- it could change tomorrow." 


Microtek Medical has had stable numbers, according to spokeswoman Beth Jolly, neither adding workers nor laying them off. 


Higgins said most businesses the Link has contact with are not planning any job expansions soon. 


"People arelooking for work,and not many places are hiring," Higgins said. "Some places are working reduced shifts. Those who were working 40 hours may be working 32 hours, and we''ll see businesses pick those workers back up full time before they hire new people." 


Doris Dunlap, director of the WIN Job Center on North Frontage Road near Golden Triangle Regional Airport, said the caseload of job seekers has been heavy and consistent for months. The center recently combined offices in Columbus, West Point and Starkville, and serves residents of Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties. 


A client of the center, who asked not to be identified, said she had been jobless since July 7, when she was laid off from her job in quality control at the Griffin armored vehicle plant in West Point. 


"No prospects. Nothing," she said. "Do you know of any jobs anywhere?"