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Jobless news good and bad in Panhandle

September 27, 2005|By DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County's low unemployment rate may be the sign of a strong economy, but it can be a challenge for big companies struggling to find enough workers, officials say.

At Charles Town Races & Slots, there have been more than 100 job openings in recent months, said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the track.

The county's low unemployment rate often hampers the track's ability to get the jobs filled, meaning current workers at the track are being asked to work overtime to get the work completed, Finamore said.

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Finamore said the track - which employs about 1,250 people - offers competitive pay and benefits, but it is constantly looking at ways to make its jobs more attractive in an attempt to get workers faster.

One of the benefits the track is currently considering is an on-site medical clinic for workers, Finamore said.

Jefferson County's unemployment rate was 3.1 percent in August, the lowest rate in the state. Jefferson County also had the lowest unemployment rate in the state in July with a rate of 3 percent. Berkeley County's unemployment rate during August was 3.8 percent and Morgan County's rate was 4.4 percent, according to WORKFORCE West Virginia, the state agency that runs labor programs and compiles labor statistics.

The state's unemployment rate in August is 5.2 percent and the unemployment rate for other counties was as high as 10 percent, the agency said.

Jefferson County's unemployment rate has been consistently low, and the trend can be attributed to the fact that businesses in the county have been stable, said Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

The low unemployment rate also is due to the fact that people who are moving into the county are employed when they arrive, Peters said.

Peters said the labor challenges facing Charles Town Races & Slots can be a common situation for large employers. If companies are hiring small numbers of people, the problem is manageable, Peters said.

"But if you're looking for 100 (workers), it's a little tough," Peters said.

At Shepherd University, officials have been able to find workers to fill secretarial, clerical and custodial positions, said Dan Starliper, director of human resources for Shepherd.

The school has had problems finding people to take high-tech positions at the university and the high unemployment rate is "not helping matters any," Starliper said.

Statewide, a push is under way to develop more job skills training programs to help companies get the workers they need, said WORKFORCE West Virginia spokesman Steve Shackelford.

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