Economic Forum

JSU's Dr. Mark Hearn speaks during the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum at the Civilian Marksmanship Program in Golden Springs. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

Calhoun County needs more skilled workers.

Many area business owners have seen growth in 2017 and are cautiously optimistic about more gains this year, a Friday economic report shows. Their optimism is tempered this year in part by a lack of skilled manufacturing workers, many of whom are leaving for areas with higher wages, some businesses and economic experts say.

The Jacksonville State University Center for Economic Development and College of Commerce and Business Administration presented the report Friday as part of the annual Calhoun County Economic Forum. Hosted by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the forum gives business owners a snapshot of the county’s economic health and compares it to the state and the nation.

“Labor force issues are going to continue to be a problem,” Mark Hearn, a professor of management at JSU who presented the report, said of the county after the event.

Hearn said the county and Alabama are losing workers to other surrounding states like Georgia and Florida. That in turn has made some area businesses less optimistic about their prospects for 2018, Hearn said.

The report states that the county labor force shrank 1.73 percent between 2016 and 2017. Also, employment grew by 1,291 people in the county in 2017, the report states.

“We had a great January last year, but the labor market started tightening after that and businesses had a harder time keeping employees,” Hearn said. “They’re looking at paying more for people to keep them here and that’s putting companies under a bit of strain.”

The report’s annual survey of business owners showed 49 percent of them believed the county economy would be better in 2018 — slightly higher than the 46 percent who had the same belief last year. Another 24 percent of those surveyed said the economy would be much better in 2018, which was lower than the 28 percent who said the same thing last year.

Also, 38 percent of those surveyed said they’d have a slight increase in employment, lower than the 41 percent who said last year that they’d have slight hiring growth.

Marsha Keahey, talent recruiter for Kelly Services, an employment agency in Oxford, said hiring is up this year like last. Keahey, who attended the event, said the problem is recruiting enough skilled labor.

“Finding qualified people is the hardest part right now … mainly for manufacturing in the area,” Keahey said.

Keahey said her company is doing more to help potential employees get the training they need.

“What companies need now are good employees that will stay,” Keahey said. “So we’re pushing for educating them and for them staying.”

In a Friday email to The Star, Steve Johnson, general manager for Anniston-based metal foundry Tyler Union, wrote that his company doesn’t have enough skilled labor to meet its needs.

“One challenge we do face is finding skilled labor such as millwrights, electricians and machinists,” Johnson wrote. “Those positions are much needed and we hope to add resources to support that need in 2018.”

Johnson added that his company expects that business levels in 2018 will be similar to those last year.

“We’ve seen some significant increases to our team member headcount over the past five years, but at present we are at a very comfortable and manageable level,” Johnson wrote.

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