By Robert Barron
CNHI News Service
Last year was good in Garfield County and Enid from an employment standpoint.
Enid’s biggest issue is not a large number of unemployed, but a shortage of workers to fill available jobs, said local officials.
In November, the latest figures available, Garfield County recorded an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent, while the state of Oklahoma posted a 5.2 percent unemployment rate. Garfield County started 2012 with a jobless rate of 4.0 percent. The number fluctuated throughout the year before dropping to 3.3 percent in November.
The state started the year with a jobless rate of 6.1 percent. It fluctuated throughout 2012 and started downward in the later months. John Carpenter, spokesman for Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, said there is no way to determine how much seasonal workers factored into the equation.
“Garfield County was 3.3 in November, down from 3.7 in October. We saw that trend in all 77 counties in November. It was a good month,” Carpenter said. “What we saw was a trend in the state, employment was up and unemployment down. I don’t know exactly what to attribute that to, the numbers don’t provide a reference.”
The counties with the lowest unemployment rate in the state are Dewey and Ellis at 2.2 percent. LeFlore County had the highest unemployment rate in November at 8.9 percent. Northwest Oklahoma counties historically have low unemployment rates, Carpenter said, and LeFlore County and the southeastern region of the state are historically high.
Jon Blankenship, president of Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, said Enid has a work force shortage.
“That is a great problem to have if you can solve it,” he said.
Blankenship said Enid needs to grow its own workers, but also look at new markets to attract people to the area. He said there is a booming energy sector, retail is doing well and manufacturing is up. He cited improvements downtown and at schools as positive factors.
“... anything we can do to help the quality of life improvements is a plus from a recruitment standpoint,” Blankenship said.
Brent Kisling, director of Enid Regional Development Alliance, said a work-force development team meets every month and discusses what the community needs, and to make sure they are advertising jobs outside Enid.
“That’s where our partners at Monster.com come in handy, and also OKMatch.com. That site is paid for by the state of Oklahoma,” Kisling said. “Everyone who graduates from college or is enrolled in CareerTech has their resumé posted on there. It finds jobs from HR websites.”
Enid has about 1,700 unfilled jobs, he said. The first step to fill those jobs is getting an announcement out beyond city limits, and getting more tools in the hands of employers. Last week, employers received a work force recruitment video that has had 4,000 hits online on YouTube. Employers send the video to prospective employees and show them what the community is like.
The Monster.com relationship has been good. There are not as many companies using it as ERDA officials would like, but they are receiving some applications from out of town. The U.S. Census estimated the population of Enid at 52,000 in 2012. The 2010 census showed just over 49,000, Kisling said.
“That must mean we are bringing some people to town. We have a lot of people working right now. There are still a lot of positions available in Enid,” Kisling said.
One factor working against Enid is the shortage of housing. Kisling said it is hard to bring someone here if there is no place for them to live. ERDA tracks housing closely, even though it is difficult to track rentals.
“We’re working with developers who may be interested in constructing rentals,” Kisling said.
Home construction is less active than it has been recently. Enid usually has a six- to seven-month supply of housing, considering the number sold each month, he said. Now, the community is down to a three- or four-month backlog of houses.
“It didn’t drop until summer. The trigger for us is to find developers who would be interested in building,” he said.