Demand High For Construction, Service Workers In Rim Country


In July, the unemployment rate for Payson was reported as 3.1 percent or 115 people, said Dan Anderson, administrator for the Department of Economic Security Research Administration Statewide, unemployment for July was 4.2 percent, just about the same as the national average of 4.3 percent.

But those 115 Rim country residents aren't looking for the types of jobs available in Payson, said Nina Owens, Payson Job Service manager.

"Right now, there are lots of jobs. We don't have the people to fill them," she said Wednesday. The majority of those openings are in the construction and service industries.

"(Employees) can't afford housing," Owens said. "People would like to live here, but some of the jobs don't pay. (The pay) is good for that type of work, but it is low when you have to live here. We get a lot of people interested in moving here, but when they look at the housing market, they think different about it."

The average starting wage for the service industry is $6 per hour and anywhere from $7 to $10 per hour for construction, Owens said. Even at that pay, finding employable folks --workers willing to show up day after day --is difficult.

"Getting qualified people, someone who is going to show up every day, is a challenge," said Don Hamman, project manager for Amon Builders.

Hamman said the construction industry is almost at the mercy of the workers, even those who fail to show up once in a while.

"They pretty much know --who else are you going to hire?" he said. "I think the good people who are working are with somebody and they stay there," he added.

Amon Builders also gives applicants a drug test before hiring. "That will eliminate some," he said. Hamman said that graduates today are choosing medical and computer fields right out of high school, shrinking the availability of workers.

One answer was to run ads in the Valley and Flagstaff.

"We have not gotten a lot of calls, but we have gotten a few," he said.

Hiring from the Valley did not work for Country Kitchen, said manager Sharon Youngs. She has been with Payson's Country Kitchen for nine years and says the job market has remained the same in Payson for some time.

"It's been about the same as it has been for the last five, six years," she said. "You get people who come and work for two or three months and decide the grass is greener someplace else, and work there for two to three months and then move out of town. We are usually short employees. Almost always, we could use help in one area or another," she said.

Youngs said it's not just a matter of finding qualified workers, but finding people to just come through the door.

"Just getting an application filled out is difficult," she said. "I think part of the reason is people come here and it is a nice little town, and they find the jobs are not what they thought."

In spite of the turnover, Youngs said she does have a core of solid employees who have been with the restaurant for more than two years.

Even though Payson's unemployment is half that of Gila County's 6.4 percent, Payson is more the norm, Anderson said.

"We are on the verge of the longest economic expansion that this country has ever seen," Anderson said.

It is a competitive labor market, he said, where employers are hiring at higher wages making the tough jobs in construction and service less attractive. Analysts who predicted that a strong economy would put the pinch on those two industries were right on target: The less skilled help available, he said, the poorer the product or service.

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