How low can it go?
Etowah County’s jobless rate reached an all-time low in April, falling to 3.2 percent, and it should drop even lower, said Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority.
The jobless rate in March was 3.4 percent, which tied December as the lowest rate in the county since 2000, just prior to the closing of Gulf States Steel. That rate had been considered the lowest ever, McCain said. With several new firms beginning to hire or starting production later this year, McCain said the rate could drop “in the 2s,” provided there is not any major economic problems.
Other counties in Northeast Alabama also saw their rates drop in April. The state rate in April was 3.6 percent, which was up from the March rate of 3.3 percent. A year ago the rate in Etowah County was 4.2 percent and the state rate was 4 percent. According to the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, the county’s civilian work force in April was 47,428, up slightly from March’s 47,283. There were 1,516 people unemployed here in April, compared to 1,589 in March.
McCain said that later this year Cintas, the country’s largest provider of uniforms, will be adding 90 jobs; Prince Metal Stamping will be adding 70 jobs and Rigid Building Systems will be adding 200 jobs. These projects and the employment resulting from these projects will have a positive impact on that rate,” McCain said.
Mark Hilderbrant, general manager for Cintas, which is locating a new laundry in the Gadsden Airport Industrial Park, said the firm has been hiring office staff for about a month and a half and soon will begin hiring production workers. The facility will begin “test washing” in July and open in August. Cintas now employs 33 at its office in East Gadsden and eventually will employ between 100 and 125, Hilderbrant said.
McCain said the IDA’s focus now is not on creating more jobs but creating “better jobs” to increase the county’s per capita income. “Isn’t this a nice problem to have?” McCain said.
McCain said now the IDA does not spend time or resources on recruiting an industry unless its average wage is at least twice the minimum wage, which is $5.15 an hour plus benefits. He said the IDA has had an informal policy for several years of recruiting higher paying jobs but that was adopted formally by the IDA board earlier this year. “If somebody is talking about jobs that pay less than $10 an hour, we don’t spend any time and money trying to recruit them,” McCain said.
He said recently the IDA received a lead on a food-processing plant interested in locating here that would have paid $7.50 to $8 an hour and created about 200 jobs but the IDA did not follow up because of the wage scale. He said when the jobless rate was 13.6 percent in 1985, “the entire focus was reducing the unemployment rate and we pretty much didn’t care what the jobs paid,” McCain said. When Gulf States Steel closed in 2000, he said, many of those working there had marketable skills and the industries the IDA recruited paid well above the minimum wage.
” It is a fact that there are many more good jobs available in the Gadsden area than there are qualified people to take them,” McCain said. He said the IDA is working with Gadsden State Community Center and ATN-Gadsden, which was known as the Bevill Center for Advanced Manufacturing, to increase young people participating in technology training here. He said with the tight labor market local wages could begin to increase as businesses try to attract trained workers from existing positions and those positions then have to be filled by others.
By Andy Powell,
Times Staff Writer