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Clark jobs 3,000 short of pre-recession levels

Jobs slowly coming back to Clark County, officials say.

Clark County still lags behind its pre-recession employment levels by more than 3,000 jobs, U.S. labor data shows.

And the sluggish return of jobs appears to line up, at least partially, with ongoing population declines in Clark County.

While the county hasn’t seen jobs return at a fast rate, local economic officials said employment is improving.

“I know that we’ve got a lot of growth and job development that is under way,” said Lehan Peters, deputy director of WorkPlus at Job and Family Services of Clark County. “I’m not seeing mass hiring, but we’re seeing consistent hiring.”

And local employers are increasingly working to retain the future workforce by placing high school and college students into internships, one workforce official said.

The Great Recession officially began in December 2007. During that year Clark County claimed an average of 52,400 jobs, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jobs in the county fell to a recession low of 49,000 in 2010 and have increased since then to 49,800 on average last year.

So far this year the county has seen an average of 49,400 jobs. Although that’s less than last year’s average, those numbers aren’t seasonally adjusted and don’t take into account fluctuations of temporary hiring for the holiday season and post-holiday layoffs.

Meanwhile, the county’s population declined from about 140,000 in July 2006 to about 137,000 in July 2012, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“(Population) definitely factors in,” Peters said. “If we would delve into what (jobs are) out there or going unfilled, (employers have) been unable to find the right talent, the right skills or the right level of education.”

Schools and businesses are working to create an environment that retains high school and college students through on-the-job internships and employment, she said, which might increase both the labor force and population.

“A lot of companies … they’re starting to grow their own workforce and they’re tapping in and offering internships for these kids that are in college,” Peters said, adding high school students are now being sought to fill internships. “I think we’re going to see a lot more of that.”

Employers have also been cautious as they wait to see how such federal measures such as the health care law and sequestration will affect them, local leaders said.

“Cautiously optimistic is what I think I hear. A lot of the manufacturers and folks that we work have had some confidence to move forward with investments in machinery,” said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and economic development director for the city of Springfield.

“Those don’t always lead to increased employment. Obviously there’s efficiencies gained when folks are buying new machinery, but it has led to some employment growth,” he added.

Franzen noted it’s unrealistic to expect the county to have grown jobs back to pre-recession levels, but said that he’s seeing steady progress.

Peters agreed, pointing to steady hiring recently at Navistar, CodeBlue and Assurant.

And the WorkPlus One-Stop job centers locally and statewide are seeing a lot of traffic, she said.

“The most important thing is we’re not seeing companies all closing their doors,” she said.

“I know through the recession we conducted one too many rapid response sessions (for layoffs), meaning we had to go out to talk to people about their next opportunity and help employers exit people out the door basically as they lost their jobs,” Peters said. “We’re not really seeing a lot of that.”

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