Originally created 09/12/99

Mix changing in job market



Last month, two articles published on the same page told two different stories about the economy.

One article pointed to the jobs that a new cable company had created. The other reported jobs the same company recently cut. Ironic?

Perhaps.

But it's happening more and more, economists say.

Together the two articles illustrate what economic thinkers are calling "creative destruction" -- a phenomenon that has spurred a very dynamic job market and challenged old ideas about economic growth.

"We're creating lots of jobs and were destroying lots of jobs too," economist Mark Vitner explains."Every time new technology drives rapid job growth, it also wipes out things that the new development has replaced."

Just how many jobs have been created and destroyed here in the past few years is tough to determine -- especially in a dynamic job market.

In Augusta, thousands of jobs lost at Savannah River Site and at downsized factories have been replaced by jobs at telephone call centers and warehouses and start up small businesses.

Workers who have lost jobs are boldly venturing out on their own, with fresh ideas and ambitious plans, backed by investors who need places to put their money.

On the balance, Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce president Jim West believes that the area has gained more jobs than it has lost. But local job growth has not kept pace with the gains reflected in national averages. Augusta has prospered, but not as much as many other places, he explains.

The biggest reason, Mr. West says, is job losses at the SRS.

The chamber of commerce, which tracks some of the jobs that are created locally, claims credit for generating at least 4,215 jobs and $654 million in capital investments since 1995.

But they did not count all the jobs created in the area, nor did they subtract jobs that were eliminated. Some of the jobs they claimed credit for helping to create just a few years ago -- such as the closed Mattel toy plant -- are no longer here.

Statistics from the Georgia Department of Labor tend to support Mr. West's assertion. The number of workers employed by Augusta-based companies and covered by unemployment insurance went from 119,899 in 1993 to 132,886 in 1998 -- nearly 13,000 jobs -- an increase of more than 10 percent.

But again, the statistics do not offer a complete tally of the jobs that are here. The numbers include workers employed by companies based in Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie Counties who do not necessarily work here. Other employees who do work here but are not covered by unemployment insurance are were not included.

Some of the area's biggest economic development projects in the past couple of years have been in Aiken. Japanese company Bridgestone/Firestone decided to build a $435 million tire plant and the U.S. Department of Energy has announced projects at the SRS.

In Augusta, hundreds of jobs have opened at Delta Air Lines and FutureCall call centers. Bill's Dollar Store recently announced it will build a warehouse here and John Deere decided to will expand operations too.

Manpower, a temporary employment company, predicts that the Augusta job market will be upbeat this fall -- October through December. The forecast is based on the company's quarterly Employment Outlook Survey of 16,000 employers nationwide.

Thirty percent of the local respondents say they will hire more personnel, 10 percent intend to reduce their staffs, and the rest expect no changes or have yet to determine their plans.

More jobs are expected in construction, retail, and public administration. Cuts are anticipated among teachers and at transportation companies, the survey indicated.

Technology, globalization and consolidation are driving economic growth.

But these factors also are driving marketplace instability.

Companies, such as Edgefield-based Martin Color-Fi, have been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, in part at least, because of financial trouble abroad. And deals, such as the proposed $1.2 billion Hankook Synthetics plant, have been delayed -- possibly indefinitely, some speculate -- by financial pressures abroad.

Recently, Augusta hospitals and the local chamber of commerce have said they may able to work together to target drug makers to the area. A focus on biotechnology research could offer new opportunities.

The medical community, a significant employer in the area, is at risk, Mr. West says. Possible cuts in federal government spending could result in downsizing at Eisenhower Army Hospital, the Veteran Affairs hospitals and other medical centers.

Bright spots in the job market include the retail and hotel industry and residential construction, Mr. West says. In addition, new missions at SRS has buoyed spirits.

The dynamic business climate is troubling workers like Faye Davis.

She was laid off at SRS a few years ago and more recently lost her job as the assistant to the local general manager at Knology, a cable television company.

"Years ago, when you had a job it was there for life," Ms. Davis says. "Now, you don't know. It's scary. It's really scary."

"What's going to happen in the future?" she asks.

Finding work isn't a problem in this economy, she says.

There are plenty of available jobs. But knowing which one will still be here three, four, five years from now is what is frightening, she explains.

"Lay offs are a part of life now," she says. "You don't go to a job and say you'll be there forever. Now, if you last at a job three years you're doing real good."

Ms. Davis says she doesn't know what to advise her two children.

Her son is just starting college. Her daughter is in middle school. She wonders what will the work place be like when her children are ready to start looking for jobs.

But Ms. Davis says she doesn't want to miss any of the opportunities that this economy is offering either. She recently invested in some technology of her own. She bought a new computer and printer and plans to use it to start her own business.

She intends to create her own job.

Frank Witsil can be reached at (706) 823-3352.

Job Growth

The Georgia Department of Labor said jobs they track in the local economy grew by 10 percent over the past five years.

1993: 119,899

1998: 132,886

Increase: 13,000 jobs.