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Jefferson County, W.Va., employers struggle to fill jobs

April 05, 2001

Jefferson County, W.Va., employers struggle to fill jobs



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County has the lowest unemployment rate in West Virginia, but that can have its drawbacks.

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For major employers, a low jobless rate means the pool of available workers is small, making it difficult to fill jobs, according to some company officials and economic development officials.

Jefferson County's unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in February and 2.6 percent in January, the lowest rate in the state for both months. In Berkeley County, the rate was 4.3 percent in February and 4 percent in January.

Charles Town Races, which employs about 1,000 people, has found it difficult at times to find qualified workers, according to Margaret Patterson, the track's director of human resources.

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Because so few people are out of work, most dependable workers with high skill levels have good jobs and are not available, Patterson said. That leaves the track with applicants who may be less employable, Patterson said.

The track may hire some of those people, but they tend not to remain on the job for very long, Patterson said.

At the same time the pool of available workers has dwindled, the track has rapidly expanded, increasing its need for more workers.

"It's been a constant game of catch-up," Patterson said.

Employers in the Eastern Panhandle have turned to job fairs to lure large numbers of people in the hope of finding the workers they need.

Charles Town Races on Tuesday held a job fair at its human resources office along Flowing Springs Road. About 150 people went to the office for on-the-spot interviews for 80 open positions at the track, Patterson said.

The jobs available at the track include surveillance operators, security officers, janitors, floor attendants, cashiers, customer service workers and mutuel tellers. Some supervisory jobs are also open, including retail sales manager, host manager, training manager and marketing director, according to an advertisement for the job fair.

The track advertised the job fair on the radio and in newspapers in the region, Patterson said.

A job fair will be held April 27 at the Martinsburg Mall for any interested employers. For $475, a company can rent a booth, have an advertisement in a program for the event, an advertisement in a local newspaper and be mentioned in radio spots announcing the event.

Organizers of the Mid-Atlantic Recruitment Show, or MARS, believe the job fair might give employers a chance to attract the attention of those already employed.

An employed person who is not looking for a new job might be walking through the mall and see something that catches his or her eye at the job fair, said Debbie Miller, marketing director for the Martinsburg Mall.

"Not that we're trying to steal employees, but it's an opportunity," said Miller.

The scarcity of available workers has been hard on companies that expand and need workers immediately, according to Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

Some companies in Jefferson County and Berkeley County have been hard pressed to find workers, although the problem may have eased up a little, Peters said.

"It's a struggle and it can last for years," said George Hammond, director of the West Virginia Economic Outlook Project at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

When workers are hard to find, the situation can force companies to come up with creative ways to lure employees, such as offering flexible hours, paying for moving expenses and other perks, said Hammond.

Government agencies can also feel the effects of a low jobless rate. This week, the top candidate for a chief planner's position in the Jefferson County Planning Commission office turned down the job after accepting it.

Last year, the county was offering to pay someone up to $65,000 to take a newly created engineering position in the office, but had no applicants for the job.

"You can't get anybody. There are no employees out there," said Jefferson County Planning Director Paul Raco.

Not all business executives say they are having trouble attracting workers.

The human resources director at the Quad Graphics printing plant in Berkeley County said she always gets a good flow of applications, although the quality of the workers "really can vary."

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