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Jefferson County's jobless rate lowest in W.Va.

August 10, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The pace is slow this time of year for the Halltown Paperboard Co. and in some ways that's a good thing, president C.C. Hammann said, because it's been difficult finding enough people to cover for his employees on vacation.

The latest unemployment rate for Jefferson County stands at 2.9 percent. It is lowest unemployment rate in West Virginia.

While the low unemployment rate is good news for many in Jefferson County, it also means there are fewer available people for job openings, Hammann said.

"I think there's hardly anybody out there looking for regular work," Hammann said.

"It's a tight labor market right now. It's a pretty dry well. You can find people, but it's not easy," Hammann said.

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Wal-Mart general manager Clint Miller thought he would have some trouble finding enough employees for the store opens later this year when he first saw the low unemployment numbers.

He scheduled to have newspaper help-wanted advertisements to run for two weeks instead of one because he thought the workers would be hard to find.

Miller said he was wrong.

After the first week, he's had 1,000 applicants for the 300 to 350 positions at the new department store.

Miller said he believes that many of his applicants were people not counted in the unemployment statistics because they were out of the job market as homemakers or they were retired and just want to get another job to supplement their income.

"Or maybe they heard Wal-Mart is a good company to work for and they want to change jobs and come here," Miller said.

The pay scale will vary for the workers, called associates, based on their previous experience.

"I won't have anybody in the store working for minimum wage," Miller said.

About half of the county's work force commute to jobs outside of Jefferson County and some of the Wal-Mart applicants may be people looking to cut their driving time, officials said.

Steve Morris, president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, said that if the low unemployment numbers are bad news for anyone, it is current employers.

The tight labor market means that employers have to pay more to keep their workers or lose them to higher paying jobs, said Morris, who also is president of Bank One.

Morris said he's lost two of his better employees to businesses just arriving in Jefferson County. One of his tellers is going to Wal-Mart to make more money and to have a better chance for advancement, Morris said.

Morris said Jefferson County is always among the best in terms of unemployment rates in West Virginia.

When one major employer, Dixie-Narco, closed up and put about a 1,000 people out of work several years ago, Morris said he expected to see the rate of late payments increase at the bank.

Instead the rate did not increase, a sign that those workers were probably quickly absorbed by other companies in the area, Morris said.

Jefferson County's location, which makes it a bedroom community for some Washington, D.C., workers, also makes it easier for workers to find jobs outside of the county, either in Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, or Clarke and Loudon counties in Virginia.

At the same time, businesses looking to locate in Jefferson County do not need to worry about the county's unemployment rate because they are able to draw from a wider labor pool from the surrounding counties, Morris said.

One company that recently located in Jefferson County had conducted a survey first and found out they would be able to attract enough workers, Morris said.

Jane Dickson, director of communications for the West Virginia Development Office, agreed.

"(Jefferson County) has not had any difficulty in bringing in new companies to the area," Dickson said. "Obviously they're doing something right. I think it's a pretty positive business climate."

Roger Ramey, owner of Ramey's Furniture, said he sees the low unemployment numbers as good for small businesses like his because it means residents have money to spend.

Ramey does not believe business owners looking to move to Jefferson County would have trouble finding enough workers.

"I think there will always be people here willing to work," Ramey said.

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