When it comes to hiring expectations across the nation, no city tops Columbus, according to a Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released Tuesday.
The survey conducted by the temporary staffing agency placed the Columbus metro area at No. 1, with 25 percent of companies expecting to hire workers in the January-March period next year, while 7 percent are planning to make cuts.
That translates to an 18 percent “net employment outlook” for Columbus. The No. 2 city on the list, San Antonio, Texas, trails with a distant 12 percent net employment outlook.
“We’ve known for a while that nobody else has got Kia going in up the street, and there’s BRAC at Fort Benning and then NCR,” said Russ Carreker, chair of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. “Those numbers of jobs aren’t coming to huge cities, and I think that provides the foundation for a lot of optimism.”
Fort Benning moves
Fort Benning is in the process of blending its Infantry School with the Armor School from Fort Knox, Ky. Kia Motors began producing vehicles last month at its massive factory in nearby West Point, Ga. And NCR Corp. opened an automated teller machine assembly plant in Columbus this fall.
All of those projects collectively are expected to yield thousands of jobs in the area over the next three years. Support businesses for local companies and consumers should also grow sharply, economic experts say.
Jeff Humphries, a University of Georgia economist and director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth, has been bullish on Columbus for several years.
“There’s a lot of stuff in the economic development pipeline in Columbus, both the public and private sectors,” he said. “So it’s kind of a no-brainer to have Columbus near the top of the list. Should it be number one? Who knows. But it definitely deserves a high ranking.”
The Columbus metro area unemployment rate now stands at 9.6 percent, below Georgia’s 10.2 percent rate.
Humphries, who earlier this year predicted Columbus would not top 10 percent unemployment, now thinks the city may have peaked and could see its rate start to drop early next year.
Georgia not as rosy
Georgia’s jobless picture is nowhere near as pretty, the economist said. He definitely sees it breaching 11 percent in 2010, then only very slowly dropping after hitting its high.
“Georgia got hit harder by the recession and it’s going to underperform (the nation) during the recovery,” Humphries said. “In fact, I expect Georgia to underperform throughout all of 2010, and only sort of perform on par with the rest of the nation in 2011, then begin to outperform again in 2012.”
Humphries said the downturn in the construction industry has damaged Georgia more than the U.S. as a whole. Home construction has taken a major hit, as has manufacturing in the state geared toward lumber, wood products and floor covering.
Delia Postell, branch manager of the Columbus Manpower office, said her business has increased recently in areas other than seasonal employment.
Companies in manufacturing, wholesale trade, business services and financial services have used the staffing agency’s services lately, she said, adding temporary workers until they’re confident the local economy has definitely turned around.
“I think some companies were really forced to make drastic cutbacks,” Postell said. “As the economy turns and as their business turns, they have been working probably for the last six months or so very, very lean.”
Aside from indicating 25 percent of Columbus companies plan to hire, while 7 percent expect to fire in early 2010, the survey found that 65 percent will maintain current staff levels. Another 3 percent aren’t sure what they’re going to do.