There were significantly fewer jobs added to the U.S. economy in March 2017, just 98,000, the smallest increase since May 2016. While the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent, underemployment continues to plague Americans, hovering around 14 percent in 2017. But there are a few bright spots where some people are getting back to work.
The loss of 127,000 mining jobs has devastated the Appalachian region, but Beckley, W.Va., is proving that there’s employment opportunities post-coal.
Over the last 12 months, Beckley reduced its unemployment rate by 2.5 percent, the largest year-over-year decrease nationwide, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Beckley is relying on strategic partnerships between development agencies, schools and businesses to create jobs. One such initiative, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, provides relevant employment training in forestry, agribusiness and manufacturing and funnels workers directly into jobs upon completion — often without the need to submit a resume.
WorkForce West Virginia, a state-run agency, also has a branch in Beckley. Paid, on-the-job training in high-growth fields like welding, electrical engineering and diesel technology is available to unemployed coal workers and displaced homemakers entering the workforce for the first time.
“It’s like the old saying: ‘As one door closes, another one opens.’ As a state, we have to work together to identify those doors and open them,” says Dr. John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Higher education does more than just improve one’s employment prospects. It’s also a job creator.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Ames, Iowa, has lowest unemployment rate in the nation: 2.1 percent. It’s held this designation 12 times in the past 24 months.
The key to Ames’s workforce boom? A longstanding employer.
“What can’t be understated in the Ames region is the presence of a large number of public sector employment opportunities with the presence of Iowa State University, where there has been considerable [job] growth over the last 36 months,” says Dan Culhane, CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission.
Fueling the college’s employment numbers is a 40 percent increase in enrollment during the past decade.
Culhane predicts this enrollment surge will cool within the next few years. To counteract it, the city is creating an internship program that will serve as an employment pipeline to retain recent university grads. It’s also making long-term investments by connecting industry leaders with local school districts to introduce students to employment opportunities in Ames.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City successfully conquered homelessness, and now it’s doing the same for unemployment.
Tied with Denver for lowest unemployment rate in a city with more than 1 million residents (3.2 percent), Salt Lake City is taking a creative approach to jobs. Literally.
When Mayor Jackie Biskupski took office in January 2016, she elevated the city’s economic development division to its own department, creating an umbrella over business development, redevelopment, and interestingly enough, the arts council.
“Generally you don’t think of arts as economic development, but it is. People want to live in cool places,” says City Economic Development Director Lara Fritts. As part of its Cultural Core Action Plan, the city is incorporating public art into all development projects, creating jobs for local artists. Salt Lake City’s investment in arts and culture is paying off — the city was recently named the top U.S. city for millennials. And statewide, Utah is experiencing impressive growth in creative jobs: 3.7 percent compared to 2.9 percent in the other sectors.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JOB CREATION, CHECK OUT THIS ADDITIONAL READING:
What the Unemployment Rate Does — and Doesn’t — Say About the Economy, Pew Research Center
Factors for Enabling the Creative Economy, World Economic Forum
Let’s fix this country together.