Jobless rates fall: Clark, Champaign employers work to retain workers

Unemployment rates recently fell in both Clark and Champaign Counties, and several local companies said their biggest challenge is retaining their current workforce as competition for skilled workers remains heated.

Clark County’s unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in September down from 4.4 percent the previous month, according to monthly information provided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Champaign County’s rate dipped slightly, from 3.7 percent in August to 3.6 percent in September.

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Ohio added 4,300 jobs over the month, while the state unemployment rate remained flat at 4.6 percent.

Clark County’s unemployment rate also fell compared to the same month last year, when unemployment was at 4.4 percent. Champaign County’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in September last year.

The monthly county updates from the state aren’t adjusted to account for seasonal patterns that include summer hiring, major holidays and school schedules. The U.S. and state figures are adjusted for those factors.

Despite the low unemployment rate, Andrew Kidd, an economist with the conservative Buckeye Institute’s Economic Research Center, raised some concern that Ohio’s job growth continues to lag much of the rest of the nation.

“In September, 6,500 Ohioans were able to find jobs in the private sector, with manufacturing making up a significant portion of those jobs,” Kidd said in a news release. “This is a good sign for an industry which had, until this month, seen negative job growth overall this year. Yet with only small gains and some losses in the rest of the labor market, Ohioans are struggling to find jobs. Ohio has been averaging more than 8,000 new jobs per month since September of last year, so this month’s report is a noticeable sign of a slowdown.”

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In Urbana, Rittal has added some new jobs as sales have been solid, but the company’s biggest challenge has been retaining its own employees, said Angela Hayes, a human resources generalist for the company. Workers at the company’s Urbana facility produce computer racks and enclosures.

“With the amount of employers hiring there’s a lot of competition,” Hayes said.

The company has hosted about four hiring events in the past couple months looking for assembly operators, machine operators, warehouse associates and material handlers. Rittal is also planning a hiring event from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 at 1345 Lagonda Ave. in Springfield. Hayes estimated the company employs about 550 workers.

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The company has boosted wages recently, but Hayes said it’s not uncommon for workers to leave for other area manufacturers if they can get an additional 50 cents or $1 hour per hour elsewhere. She said the company’s starting pay had been $11 per hour but the company’s initial wages now range from about $13.30 to $16.40 per hour.

Rittal has also looked at its benefits package and often looks for other ways to make the company more attractive to retain employees.

“We often brainstorm about what we can do to keep people here,” Hayes said.

Assurant's Springfield office provides operational support for customers and clients of its Specialty Property Division. That firm also recently hosted a job fair both to fill vacant positions and to find temporary workers to assist with insurance claims related to Hurricane Florence. The company recently filled several of about 100 temporary and full-time openings at the company's Springfield location, said David Blumenthal, a spokesman for the company.

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