Rim Country Businesses Struggle To Find Workers

Employers fault training, attitude and experience while most workers say they need more money, health benefits

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Rim Country businesses say they can't find enough skilled workers, while the region's struggling workforce says they are mostly looking for work that pays a living wage and provides health benefits.

That's the picture emerging from two studies completed by the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation.

The just-released work force study found that the Rim Country has about 7,000 workers out of a population of roughly 26,000. About two-thirds of those workers say they'd take another job for the right money or health benefits.

In addition, many homemakers, younger retirees and the unemployed say they are looking for work, preferably something that pays about $29,000 and includes benefits. All told, that "potential" workforce of non-workers and job-changers totals about 7,800, according to the study conducted by Larry Gregory.

The findings complement another survey of Rim Country employers that found local businesses plan to expand in the next few years, but worry about problems with finding enough trained workers, coping with town regulations and getting job training support from the community college.

For the workforce study, the researcher made 4,300 phone calls to reach 944 households between October and January of 2006. A total of 400 people agreed to answer the 17- to 35-question survey.

The report concluded that finding qualified workers to work for Rim Country wages remains a major concern for most employers -- along with the lack of affordable housing and a town government that is considered unfriendly to business.

The survey of business owners released late last year found that 70 percent of Rim Country businesses plan to expand in the next three years, with plans to invest $214 million and add 215 jobs.

But 85 percent cited problems with finding qualified and motivated workers and 77 percent rated the current workforce only "fair" or "poor" in most areas.

In the study, employers complained about the supply of skilled workers. About 7 percent of employers described the supply of unskilled workers as poor, but the number rose to 32 percent for professional workers and 50 percent for technical workers. Across all categories, 78 percent considered the supply of workers fair or poor.

The survey found the Rim Country workforce substantially older than the statewide average, which also means employers have a hard time finding younger workers -- in part for lack of apartments and low-cost housing.

For instance, the supply of workers aged 20 to 54 in the Rim Country is 28 percent lower than the state average -- while the supply of potential workers older than 55 is 94 percent above the state average.

Moreover, the region's lack of vocational schools and community college based training programs creates additional problems for employers trying to bolster the job skills of local high school graduates or retooled workers, the report said.

The work force includes about 73 percent with some college or a college degree and only 5 percent lacks at least a high school degree. All told, 15 percent have a four-year college degree, 12 percent have a two-year college degree, 6 percent have taken some graduate courses and 8 percent have earned graduate degrees. About 32 percent have completed some college classes and 18 percent have just a high school degree. About 3 percent have some vocational or trade schooling.

An earlier PRDC survey of 30 major Rim Country employers found widespread dissatisfaction with the number and training of Rim Country workers and Payson's attitude toward business. The survey also documented heartening plans for expansion and high marks for the climate, lifestyle and tenor of the community -- plus satisfaction with basic services like police and fire protection.

A strong majority of the companies surveyed predicted stable or increasing sales, stable ownership and management, expansion of facilities that would require nearly 100,000 square feet of additional commercial and office space, adoption of new technology and the introduction of new products and services -- although the survey was conducted before the economy slid into recession.

That survey revealed employers have a hard time finding engineers, nurses, real estate agents, concrete workers -- and anyone with a strong work ethic. Most said the recruitment problems had more to do with the Rim Country location than with trends in their industry.

Most of the business owners surveyed gave the area high marks for climate, beauty, community life, business potential and the proximity to the Phoenix market.

On the other hand, 20 to 33 percent expressed serious concern with the adverse politics, housing and living costs, workforce quality and availability and the town's no-growth attitude. About 13 percent expressed concern about commercial taxes, land availability, low wages and town services.

"Other community weaknesses identified include frustration with (town permit) review time, building permit process, lack of infrastructure, increasing traffic and residential encroachment in employment areas," the report concluded.

The survey also revealed widespread concerns among business owners with the lack of sufficient business-oriented vocational and job training courses at the Gila Community College's Payson campus.

The two biggest impediments to future growth cited by the business owners included a "no-growth attitude" and town restrictions plus the lack of sufficient private land. Other concerns included the average age of the population, a lack of water, workforce costs, workforce availability and property taxes.

Since the study was completed, Mayor Kenny Evans unseated Mayor Bob Edwards, in a campaign that focused in part on the growth restrictions advocated by Edwards and on Evans' avowed goal of making town hall more "business friendly."

Characteristics of current

Rim Country Workers:

  • About 69 percent work full time, 28 percent have multiple jobs and commuters from outside the area account for 10 percent.
  • Two thirds say they would trade jobs -- mostly to get benefits like health care.
  • The largest employment categories include Health Care and Social Services (20 percent), Construction (15 percent) and Wholesale and Retail Trade (14 percent)
  • Nearly half earn less than $29,000 and 70 percent earn less than about $35,000.
  • About 29 percent have no benefits and among the 50 percent who do have health coverage, most get no help on the premiums from employers.
  • Two-thirds would take a new job, preferably full time.
  • The highest paid workers are profession/scientific/technical ($24 an hour), government ($21 an hour), health care and social services ($18 per hour) and construction ($18 per hour).
  • About 70 percent travel less than 10 minutes to get to work.
  • About 95 percent say they would accept work outside of their primary field of experience or skills.
  • About 45 percent fall in the 18 to 44 year-old-group and about 55 percent are between 44 and 64.
  • Half of the workforce lives in the Payson area.

Characteristics of potential

Rim Country Workers

The available workforce includes 7,800 current workers who say they would take a new job if it came along and the 7,000 people of working age that don't have a job.

  • Two thirds of local job hunters rely on the newspaper for job leads and 57 percent rely on tips from family and friends. Only 23 percent rely on the unemployment office.
  • About half say they're shooting for a salary of $31,000 and a third say they want to make more than $37,000.
  • The biggest pools of workers have experience in health care and social services (1,300), construction (1,000), "other services" (1,000) and trade (1,000).
  • About two-thirds say they would go to work mostly for the money, but 73 percent said getting health care coverage was the most desired benefit -- even above the wage.

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