Unemployment: Are the jobs out there?

Published 12:39 am Sunday, August 28, 2011

Loretta Cass, right, gives Breaud’s Seafood and Steaks’ manager Brittany Bryant payment for her meal Friday afternoon on Main Street. Bryant said that she has had problems finding employees to fill open positions at the restaurant.

Explaining high unemployment numbers in Adams County and Concordia Parish to businesses around the Miss-Lou that report frequent troubles filling job openings takes a willingness to understand the big picture.

Unemployment numbers in Adams County and Concordia Parish were higher in July than those in each respective state and in the nation.

The latest numbers put Adams County’s unemployment at 11.4 percent and Concordia’s at 12.1 percent.

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Mississippi’s rate was 11.1 percent. Louisiana’s rate was 7.9 percent.

Breaud’s Seafood and Steaks employee Richard Fleming prepares a hamburger for a customer Friday afternoon on Main Street.

The national average was 9.3 percent.

Of Adams County’s 13,460-person labor force, 1,540 people were unemployed as of July 2011.

Of Concordia Parish’s 7,235-person labor force, 873 people were unemployed in July.

Yet Brittany Bryant, a manager at Breaud’s Seafood and Steaks in Natchez, said she cannot find employees to fill open positions at the restaurant.

Breaud’s expanded this year to go from accommodating 30-35 people at a time to seating 105 people at a time, and because of that, Bryant said, the restaurant has increased its business significantly and sought out new employees.

“The problem is basically finding good, consistent help,” she said. “What I see here is there are jobs out there, and people want a job and they want money, but they don’t want to do all that’s required of them to make money.”

Bryant said she’s hired people who will work one weekend to make quick tips, then leave.

“(The chef’s manager) also told some people up here, ‘Whoever learns how to cut meat and will cut meat, you’ll immediately get a raise,’ but nobody has even tried to learn to do it,” she said.

WIN Job Center Branch Director Peggy Ballard said sometimes, though, you have to look at an individual’s situation.

“People are in need, but so many times there are low-wage part-time jobs, and they can create transportation issues, child care issues — it’s kind of like they aren’t earning enough to be holding a job,” she said. “Of course what people want are full-time jobs with benefits, and those are harder to find. I’m not saying they’re not out there, but there are fewer of them.”

Ballard said a new mindset that supports public transportation could make an impact on the problem.

“We’re pretty spoiled to jumping in a car and going where we want to go, because we’re in a small, rural town,” she said. “I think it’s an adjustment we need to make.”

Other workers don’t bring the needed skills to the table, Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin pointed out.

“Some jobs require more education and training, and sometimes we are not able to fulfill that,” he said. “And getting qualified workers is difficult to do around here.”

Economic turnaround?

The national economists say the recession that started in 2007 ended in 2009.

But local business people know that the Miss-Lou was dealt its biggest blow before the recession even began — when International Paper and several other major local industries closed.

Because of that, the recession likely didn’t mean as much in the Miss-Lou, area leaders say.

But it certainly didn’t help.

Barry Loy, director of retail operations for Supermarket Operations — which owns all the area Markets — said he’s seen little to no improvement since the reported 2009 end to the national recession.

“People are really watching their pennies,” he said. “People just aren’t spending as much money right now. Everybody is really holding their dollars close to them.”

In his grocery stores, the penny pinching is most evident when looking at what customers are buying, Loy said.

“Instead of buying national brands, they’re buying generic brands,” he said. “Where they used to buy steak, now they’re buying hamburger.”

McGlothin said rural areas always have an unemployment rate 2 of 3 percent higher than larger areas.

“If there are jobs, they are usually going to go to bigger cities,” he said. “That is why in area’s like ours, landing any type of business is a good thing.”

Recent announcements that Elevance Renewable Sciences and Enersteel will locate in Adams County, employing 175 and 100 respectively, may be the turnaround the area needs, though, Ballard said.

“There’s a lot of excitement about that, so we’ve seen an increase (of people at the job center), but it’s hard to judge the reason for that,” she said. “Earlier this week, it was pretty much standing room only.”

Ballard said she could feel that something is different.

“A lot of times, you can feel things being still — that people just aren’t hiring,” she said. “Now it feels like that has broken and there’s movement.

“It’s weird how you can feel it.”

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland agreed.

“Natchez bringing in (Enersteel and Elevance) is going to help us tremendously by allowing us to talk to more industries,” he said. “In the next few weeks (Vidalia) is planning on announcing another industry coming to the area that will bring 25 to 30 more jobs along with it.”

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Executive Director Heather Malone said it’s precisely those high unemployment numbers that just might start turning things around.

“That high unemployment rate shows that you have people in the area who are available to work,” she said. “That can be very valuable when it comes to the final decision (for a company looking to locate).

“I do think we are starting to bounce back from this. People are getting more contracts, seeing that they can hire more people and they are actually starting to hire again.”