"Hiring" signs point to economic growth, not laziness

"Hiring" signs point to economic growth, not laziness

CALDWELL COUNTY- Caldwell County has hit a record low in the employment rate, and despite the many “now hiring” and “help wanted” signs posted from Lenoir to Granite Falls, people participating in workforce is higher than pre-pandemic times.

Executive Director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, Deborah Murray, said in Tuesday’s meeting that the current unemployment rate for the county has fallen to 3%, the lowest in 22 years. 

That rate is lower than the North Carolina unemployment rate at 3.7%, as well as the national rate at 3.9%.

“In April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, there were 27,989 people employed in Caldwell County,” Murray said. 

That number has seen a 27.9% increase as of December 2022, with 35,802 people now working in Caldwell County. 

Murray attributes several factors as the driving force behind the plethora of employers looking for labor, including the “great resignation”, a popular phrase referring to the roughly 33 million Americans who have quit their jobs since the spring of 2021, COVID-19 accelerated retirement, competitive recruitment, and having more job opportunities than ever.

The county has had 478 jobs new job creations within the last year, with JBS, Exela, and Craftmaster leading the way. 

Ric Smith, center manager for NCWorks and EDC board member, added to the conversation by noting that the unemployment rate for the Western Piedmont area as a whole has an unemployment rate of 2.9%, even lower than Caldwell County’s.

“We’re wrestling with our neighbors,” which feeds into the challenge of growing the workforce at the rate at which the job opportunities are growing, he said.

Murray detailed several ways the EDC is currently helping to grow the workforce, including the “Caldwell is Hiring” program, a free service that posts up to 200 opportunities a month from employers within the county.

“There were 100 job applicants and 40 people hired, based on a single post,” she said. 

The other areas of focus are housing development, to house more of the workforce at market rates, and educational programs through Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, to get current residents skilled in the areas of available job opportunities. 

In reference to creating a workforce that can keep up with the demand of the growing economy, Murray said, “If you want to pass a car on the highway, you can’t go the same speed , you have to go a little faster,” she said. “Do a little more, and we are in all of those arenas, and helping.”

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