The “Now Hiring” signs are everywhere, from big banner signs draped over chain link fences at local manufacturing plants to the little yard signs peppered around the city. The economy is seeking to make a major turnaround from the effects of a pandemic that hasn’t been seen in a century.
Rome staffing industry executive Layton Roberts, CEO at Etowah Employment, said in 28 years he’s never seen a situation like the area is in now.
Rome-Floyd County Development Authority President Missy Kendrick believes the trend of not being able to fill positions has developed from natural growth within a lot of existing industries.
“Over a period of time they have not been able to fill, and keep filled, some of those organic positions,” Kendrick said.
One of the issues that companies are facing is the federal stimulus unemployment assistance that has some folks drawing aid while they just sit at home. In some instances, the federal assistance checks add up to more than they might make working some jobs.
The maximum regular unemployment check of $365 a week plus the federal supplement check of $300 a week comes out to $650 a week. Divide that by a 40-hour work week and that averages out to $16.62 an hour.
The American Rescue Plan extended weekly $300 bonuses to the unemployed and offered ongoing pandemic assistance for independent contractors and part-time employees who would not normally qualify for benefits. But Gov. Brian Kemp announced that, effective June 26, Georgia would no longer participate in the federal programs.
Kendrick said she hopes once the federal aid is eliminated at the end of the month that more people will return to the workforce.
“Good employees are a hot commodity,” Roberts said.
He said he isn’t sure if pay is the key issue, but if businesses, particularly small businesses, have to up their pay scale, the end result will be companies passing on their higher labor costs to end-line consumers.
The most recent unemployment data for Rome and Floyd county indicated the jobless rate for April was 3.5%. The Georgia Department of Labor reported that 1,556 Floyd County residents were unemployed and actively seeking work. They have no way of tracking how many residents are capable of work but not seeking a job at this time.
Roberts said he believes the actual unemployment rate may be as low as 1.7% because he’s always subscribed to the theory that half those listed on the unemployment rolls don’t really want to work.
The GDOL has been denying more folks’ unemployment claims recently and Roberts said it might have something to do with the number of people who are riding the extra $300 weekly payments and refusing job offers.
“I think you’re going to see a trickle effect. It may take two weeks to a month before we start seeing people (getting serious about reentering the workforce),” Roberts said.
But aside from the unemployment payments people are receiving, one industry executive explained recently that a part of the problem may be the number of job applicants who are not able to pass random drug tests.
Since Jan. 1, 2019, all law enforcement agencies in Rome and Floyd County have made 917 drug-related arrests. Rome Assistant Police Chief Debbie Burnett said more than half of those arrests, 469, were made by city police officers.
Kendrick said she has not heard about any hiring problems related to drug testing. Most manufacturers do drug tests as a workers compensation compliance issue.
One of the challenges for the staffing industry, according to Roberts, is the ability of agencies to maintain a high quality level of workers they send out to job sites.
“That leads to drug testing,” Roberts said. “Any good employer is not going to relax standards from a safety standpoint.”
Rome is also facing something of a chicken and egg jobs dilemma with its housing shortage. Can Kendrick and her staff lure new jobs to the community when there aren’t enough places for the workforce to live or does the community need new industry before the homes can be built?
Kendrick said that only once during her two years in Rome has a prospective industry submitted a request for information about the availability of housing. That company has not made a decision about its future location yet, but it has not ruled out Rome and Floyd County.