An economic roundtable discussion on the current post-pandemic economic climate was held Friday at the Highland County Chamber of Commerce offices at the Scott House in Hillsboro.
U.S. Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-OH 2nd District) heard from Highland County business leaders and Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin concerning the current climate of more available jobs than willing workers.
Wenstrup’s own regional director of his Peebles office, Teresa Lewis, told the Highland County Commissioners at their meeting on May 5 that in many cases, the amount of jobless benefits total more than what some workers were earning on the job, and that “people just don’t want to go back to work.”
She blamed the dilemma on competition from what she described as “generous unemployment benefits.”
Nela Richardson, chief economist at the payroll processing firm ADP, said there is a gap between the economy and the labor market, according to the Associated Press, a point that wasn’t missed at the Friday roundtable.
Seal-Tite Director of Safety Ron Bryant said that last year due to the pandemic, the first and second shifts had to be combined due to a lack of workers with the end result being having to turn business away.
“We did the math. We could employ 300 people at our Hillsboro plant and run three shifts,” he said. “But we can’t do that because we can’t get the employees.”
A spokesperson for Candle-lite added that the Leesburg facility currently had 140 job openings in order to be fully staffed, and that the company last year hired over 500 new employees with 300 of those lost to turnover.
She added that the temp agency Candle-lite used hired over 870 new employees and turned over 700.
Increasing the starting wage wasn’t seen as an effective incentive either, since Seal-Tite controller Laura Burton said that a jump to $15 per hour to start would impact the company significantly and negatively.
“It would be close to a half-million dollar impact if we took that wage to that level,” she said, “and then we’re balancing, too. Look at these fast food restaurants and they can’t get employees either, so do we take that financial risk and still not get the workers that you need?”
The labor department reported that hiring in the United States picked up in May, but was slowed again by the struggles of many companies trying to find enough workers.
Eric Winograd, an economist at AllianceBernstein, an investment management firm, told the AP that there are still about seven million people who are not searching for work, and therefore aren’t counted as unemployed, but who say in government surveys that they want a job.
Government jobless figures recently released showed unemployment dropped from 6.1 percent to 5.8 percent in May.
Economists like Winograd say the labor situation will likely persist until early fall, when schools reopen, COVID-19 fades further away and supplemental federal unemployment benefits end.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced on May 13 that the state would stop its participation in the federal supplemental unemployment benefits program on June 26, while the federal benefits were scheduled to remain in effect through Sept. 14.
The AP reported that more than a dozen other states were also opting out of the program in June.
To illustrate the severity of the problem of getting workers back on the job, Bryant shared what he recently saw driving past the Hobart plant on North High Street in Hillsboro.
“I’ve been in Hillsboro now 14 years, but I’ve never seen a “now hiring” sign in front of Hobart,” he said. “That used to be, from what I understand from years ago, the choice place of employment, but they are actually struggling also to get people in there.”
Jamie Wheeler, executive director of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, said the roundtable was designed to discuss current challenges of the workforce.
“Businesses of all sizes were in attendance representing the areas of Hillsboro, Greenfield, Leesburg and New Vienna,” she said. “Those in attendance appreciated Congressman Wenstrup listening to their concerns and expressing his willingness to help Highland County businesses.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.