Fewer visitors at Cheaha Career Center might be sign of economic improvement
by Patrick McCreless
Star staff writer
Nov 14, 2012 | 3715 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A drop in the number of job hunters using the resources of the Cheaha Career Center has led some to believe that the local economic picture has brightened lately. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
A drop in the number of job hunters using the resources of the Cheaha Career Center has led some to believe that the local economic picture has brightened lately. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Fewer residents are seeking help finding jobs now than in previous years, a possible sign of economic improvement in the area, according to figures from Cheaha Career Center in Anniston.

The center, which helps residents find employment, had 3,248 fewer job-seekers during fiscal 2012 compared to fiscal 2011. With decreasing unemployment in Calhoun County during the same time frame, the drop in visitors is another sign of some economic improvement for the area, some economists say.

Career Center manager Ruby Beezley said the facility received 22,641 visitors between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. The number was far fewer than the 25,889 visitors the center had between July 1, 2010, and June 2011, when traffic at the facility was at its highest due to the recession, Beezley said.

“Things have kind of eased off after the first of the year,” Beezley said.

Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said fewer career center visits could be construed as economic improvement, particularly if coupled with lower unemployment numbers.

“Certainly to the extent that there are not as many people seeking help at the career center, that’s a good sign,” Robicheaux said. “It beats the alternative … and the hope is to continue to see positive signs.”

The county has had other positive signs of economic improvement in the past year. According to recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,200 more people working in Anniston and Oxford in September than during the same month the previous year. Also, according to Alabama Department of Labor, the county had a 7.9 percent unemployment rate in September — lower than the 9.3 unemployment rate it had during the same month last year.

The area has had layoff announcements in the past year, such as 145 workers being let go from a BAE Systems facility in Anniston by the end of December. However, the nearby Honda manufacturing plant in Lincoln has created 450 new jobs in the past year as it expands.

Also, new work from the National Guard, the Army Reserve, Saudi Arabia and Iraq has ensured that about 386 workers at the Anniston Army Depot scheduled to be laid off this year will keep their jobs through at least March.

For those still struggling to find a job, however, the career center offers free services that can help. Located on the Ayers campus of Gadsden State Community College, the Cheaha Career Center is one of about 40 such facilities across the state. The center mainly helps residents connect with employers and find open job positions. The center has rows of computers for job-seekers to look up positions and post resumes to the state’s official job search site, Alabama JobLink, Beezley said.

Beezley said there are currently about 13,000 employer job postings across the state on the system.

“We encourage everyone who comes in to post a good resume,” Beezley said. “Employers use this site … when Honda hired recently, all the applications were taken through the career center.”

For residents who are not computer literate, the center has employees available to help, such as Celeste Paxton.

“If they need a bit of a tutorial to navigate the system, I try to help them out with anything they need,” Paxton said.

Sharon McCutchen of Anniston was using one of the center’s computers Tuesday afternoon, searching for jobs in the state in the field of property management. McCutchen said she had been visiting the career center off and on for several months since she moved to the area from Texas.

“The people here are amazing … they are pleasant to work with and knowledgeable about computers,” McCutchen said. “If you need help or someone to proofread a resume, they go the extra mile.”

In addition to helping them hunt for jobs, the center helps residents get extra education to make them more competitive in the job market. The education can be simple like tutoring classes at the center to improve a resident’s math or English skills. However, the center can also help residents who have been laid off get into community colleges to learn skills for new careers through the Workers Investment Act. The law provides federal funding for workforce education and will typically pay for tuition and related school supplies.

“We want them to develop a career,” Beezley said.

The Cheaha Career center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about the center, call 256-832-5191.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
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