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Labor Pains

Businesses optimistic despite jobless figures

November 4, 2012
By AMANDA METZGER , The Leader Herald

Fulton County's unemployment rate remains second only to Bronx County in the list of counties with highest unemployment rates in the state.

Despite the grim numbers, many local businesses say they have been hiring, and the state's outlook for some jobs is very favorable according to a study that measures jobs through 2018.

Benjamin Moore, 155 Union Ave., Johnstown, is currently hiring for five positions including two quality-control jobs and three batch-making positions in the paint-manufacturing facility.

Article Photos

Floor sales associate Maggie Rogers shows Tanya Ball how the ComforPedic Bed works at Ruby & Quiri in Johnstown on Friday. The sales staff at Ruby & Quiri needs to have both people and technological skills, owner Rick Ruby Sr. says. (The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher)

Benjamin Moore has been at its current location for 21 years. The local facility is one of the company's seven and employs about 120 people.

"I don't think there is a shortage of jobs at all. We employ about 120 people at Benjamin Moore, and we experience about a 5-to-7 percent turnover per year, so at some point during the year I'm always looking for folks to help us succeed. We're always hiring at some point, it seems," said Paul Connelie, plant manager.

Many of the local manufacturers have been in the news recently for job-creating expansions. Greek yogurt maker Fage USA is expected to double its workforce after its $100 million expansion.

Fact Box

Unemployment rates

At 10.6 percent reported for September, there was no change from August, but there was a 0.8 percent jump from September 2011, according to figures from the state Department of Labor.

Montgomery County's jobless rate remains higher than last year at this time, rising from 9.5 percent to 9.9 percent in September. But the rate fell from 10.3 percent in August.

Both counties are higher than the state's 8.2 percent unemployment rate and the U.S. figure of 7.9 percent released Friday, which rose from 7.6 percent in September.

The state's rate was down fom 8.8 percent in September last year.

In Hamilton County, which is impacted more by seasonal tourism, the unemployment rate is up from last year at this time, going from 5.6 to 6.3 percent. It also increased from 5.2 percent in August.

According to a report on the state Department of Labor's website prepared by Mark Barbano, labor market analyst for the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton and Montgomery counties, employment in the region fell by 5,820 from 197,610 to 191,790 from 2007 to 2010.

According to data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which comes from employers covered under the state's Unemployment Insurance Law, hospitals added 430 jobs from 2007 to 2010. The federal government added 570 jobs for the same time period. The social assistance sector set an all-time employment high in 2010 after 680 jobs were added in the vocational rehabilitation services and services for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Meanwhile, from 2007 to 2010 warehousing and storage lost jobs, though it was still double where it ranked in 2000. The printing industry lost 520 jobs over the three-year period. Insurance carriers and administration support services also lost jobs.

The outlook remains favorable through 2018 for jobs in fields such as nursing and retail according to state Labor Department projections.

While manufacturing jobs where many local people worked in the past, such as leather mills, have declined, a different highly technical manufacturing is expanding. The demand for registered nurses also continues to grow, and there are jobs that sometimes require only a two-year degree or certificate.

"We've seen a lot of manufacturing jobs in Fulton and Montgomery counties go over the years with the leather mills, but that's true of a lot of other counties also," Barbano said. "A lot of times people getting laid off in general might not have the skills for jobs that are growing. And a lot of the growing jobs are in the health field. That doesn't mean people getting laid off from manufacturing can go into being a nurse, but they may have worked in a factory for 20 or 30 years, never got a high school diploma, and now they're out looking for jobs."

Benjamin Moore's Connelie said the company looks for people with a stable work history and positive attitudes. If it's the right fit, the company will work on training people to use the equipment. For the quality control positions, people with laboratory experience could do well. He said there are two-year degrees at FMCC that would provide good training.

In the batch-making operation, employees can work with a computer control panel, so they should be comfortable working in front of a computer, and independently arriving at solutions while trouble-shooting problems.

"We've got a fair amount of work to do to provide skills training to the folks. In my business, we don't really have the opportunity to draw from another industry to get the skills we're looking for here. There's not another paint manufacturer across town," Connelie said.

To train its existing workforce, the company has worked with Fulton-Montgomery Community College to fill skills gaps.

"FMCC has some great capabilities over there. Between them and Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, we've got a huge asset. If we wanted to start building a technical training internship program, it would really service some of the other businesses in the area as well," Connelie said.

Ruby & Quiri's Rick Ruby Sr. agreed. He sat on a panel of local business leaders at a recent summit at BOCES that included area leaders from schools, community, business and government. The mission was to find a way businesses and education leaders can work together to produce a skilled local workforce.

"One of the things that became apparent, was that there was this sense that maybe there aren't a lot of opportunities here in our area for young people - not a lot of reasons to stay. I don't believe that's true," Ruby said.

Ruby & Quiri has seen growth, expanding to its 65,000 square-foot facility in 2007. Today associates should be comfortable with technology as iPads and tablet computers are used to serve customers.

"The skill sets needed today are the ability to communicate with people, especially in retail. It is important for people to have the ability to use technology," Ruby said. "For example, our sales people use iPads to write up sales orders on the floor. Years ago, we would have hand-written them."

Technology has allowed Ruby & Quiri to grow, but the people skills are still just as important as tech skills for his company.

"One of the things we feel we need to do is take advantage of being able to be competitive by using technology to our advantage," Ruby said. "For years we couldn't be as competitive as the big box stores of the world. Today, we're part of the largest buying group in the U.S. We can buy products and sell them at the same prices as other places where service is not as easy to obtain."

On a larger scale, Ruby said the areas government leaders must cooperate for the region to experience growth.

"We need to work together. We need to remove the perception of borders between one county or another, or one city or another. That is an important step that would create a business environment that would be the image of strong cooperation, that could stimulate jobs," he said. "The results would be beneficial to everyone. Probably even more important is how fortunate we are to have facilities like BOCES and FM that are fast becoming leaders in successfully working at making education and business a number-one priority. We all need to get that message out."

Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Interim President Mark Kilmer said there is constant buzz about businesses that need specific types of skill sets, and assets like the clean-room training facility and electrical engineering program at FMCC should be highlighted as the area works to improve its jobless rate.

"I think that's a great and positive thing they're doing. The skill levels are constantly increasing as jobs go high tech. I don't know that it's easy to keep up with those needs, but in particular now, with GlobalFoundries, that's something relatively new to the community. The fact that FM has a clean room to train people has a positive effect on that need."

Barbano said a lot of the upstate areas are showing higher rates than a year ago.

"A lot of times for September, the rates, depending on the county, usually go up. Sometimes they go up just because after labor day a lot of seasonal activity comes to an end," he said.

The rates typically jump from December to January.

"It makes sense because in the middle of winter, you've got seasonal activity from Christmas," he said. "By the time you get to January, the weather is bad. You have construction layoffs. The rate should drop from November to December or stay fairly stable."

The unemployment rate accounts only for people in the labor force. Data is based on the Current Population Survey, not unemployment benefits.

The numbers measure jobless rates among people 16 years and older. People who have no job and are not actively looking for one are not counted in the labor force. To qualify as looking for work, the person should have actively looked for work in the last four weeks.

News editor Amanda Metzger can be reached at



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