ZANESVILLE – The local labor market is still feeling the effects of what Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority Executive Director Matt Abbott described as “the perfect storm” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic . This is largely due to the massive retirement of around 3 million baby boomers and the difficulty of replacing them in the labor market.
“Unfortunately, we are experiencing a labor shortage, that’s not something that’s going to fix itself,” said Julie Metzger, county supervisor for OhioMeansJobs Muskingum. In addition to the massive retirement of baby boomers, families are getting smaller, so fewer employees are aging in the workforce. “We have to learn to adapt,” she said.
To help, OhioMeansJobs works with local school districts to prepare students who are not on a business certification or a pathway to a workforce degree. “We do presentations with students, educating them about what employers in our area are looking for,” Metzger said. This includes soft skills, such as communication, getting to work on time, and learning how to remove barriers so you can get to work. Then, as the students graduate, they work with the students individually and organize it with visits and interviews with different employers in the area. Many employers recruit students right out of school, Abbott said, and train them rather than waiting for them to earn a college degree or certification.
To make up for the lack of workers, “the business community has really focused, not just in Muskingum County, but across the country, on technology,” Abbott said. This includes ways to reduce the workforce through artificial intelligence or internal efficiencies, to offset labor shortages seen in recent years. So far, that hasn’t resulted in any job cuts, Abbott said. “We’ve seen workers come back into the workforce, we’ve seen wages rise over the past year,” he said.
Muskingum County has an unemployment rate of 4.1%, down from 3.9% last month and 3.8% in December 2021. That’s extremely low, Metzger said. “We’ve had low unemployment over time, but collectively as a region we have the highest unemployment rate in the state, which I think is a competitive advantage when you look at the labor availability,” Abbott said. This means that employers can pull workers from adjacent counties or bring workers employed in other counties here. It’s an OhioMeansJobs goal, Metzger said.
“We hope to see next year, as we have businesses expanding and new businesses coming in, those who are now traveling outside of Muskingum County for work will then choose to stay here and work within their community” , Metzger said. “That’s what we’re working towards.”
“I think things are looking pretty good,” Abbott said. “We’ve shown signs of coming out of this pandemic in a positive way. We haven’t been hit as hard (by the pandemic) as some urban or metropolitan areas, we’re kind of shielded from it. We haven’t taken the initial hit that some of these communities took, but we’re a little slower to bounce back when it comes to salary trends and employment data.”
Abbott said as the pool of employees has shrunk, conversations with employers revealed that potential employees place a higher priority on hourly wages over insurance and benefits. They would also like to see flexible hours, rather than the traditional 8 to 5 shifts.
There are plenty of jobs available in Muskingum County, with many more on the horizon.
In addition to the expected boost from the Intel project in Licking County, Abbott pointed to the number of growing businesses in the area, from Kellogg’s to Ridge Corporation, as some of the bright spots in the local job market.
Worthington Foods Inc., a subsidiary of Kellogg Company, said in 2020 it would expand its current facility and create more jobs in Zanesville by investing $43 million in the facility, along with $25 million for equipment and $18 million for the new facility while the new jobs add approximately $2 million in new payroll to the area.
Kellogg’s, located at 1675 Fairview Road and in the West Muskingum School District, said it would expand its current facility from 40,000 to 50,000 square feet and create 40 full-time jobs. The Zanesville City Council has approved an agreement with the company to provide project and tax exemptions under the Ohio Enterprise Zone program. The program offers tax incentives to private companies to promote and encourage expansion projects.
“We’ve got some good things to do going into next year,” Abbott said.
“Some companies are going to follow Intel,” he said, “there are vendors looking for ownership. Some need to be very close, some don’t. We’re ready for those companies to have moved here to provide the kinds of jobs we are looking for that will raise the bar for the community.”
“We still have a lot of manufacturing and distribution jobs to fill, as well as medical drivers and class A and B CDL drivers. We need welders, plumbers, pipe fitters, every industry has some kind of shortage,” Metzger said. .
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