Bill Anderson, chief economist for the state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, says Greater Reno-Sparks has put the recession that plagued the region for the better part of five years in its rear view.
Employers with job openings agree.
Unemployment in May in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area fell two full percentage points from a year earlier, and statewide about 24,600 jobs were added in the first five months of the year, Anderson says. Most important, though, initial claims for unemployment have tapered off the past three years, an indication that companies across the region have stabilized — and in many cases are re-hiring.
“The most pronounced trend that we see across the state, including northern Nevada, is a decline in the unemployment rate,” Anderson says. “Job losses have run their course. You will always have job loss in any economy, but our job-loss trends are pretty much in line now with historical levels. We are starting to see signs of pickup in hiring, and though we are not approaching pre-recessionary levels it does look like we have turned the corner.”
Northern Nevada is shaping up for healthier days, Anderson adds, because much of the gains in employment come from outside its historical economic drivers: construction, hospitality and leisure. Greater diversification in the job market can shelter Reno-Sparks and surrounding communities from steep employment declines in troubled economic times.
“One can argue that the more modest kind of growth and the more widespread kind of growth we are seeing right now is better than boom-like conditions we saw prior to recession,” Anderson says. “Those conditions weren’t sustainable over time. The modest pace of improvement we are seeing now is arguably more sustainable.”
Total employment in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area in May stood at 190,200. Unemployment in Reno-Sparks ticked down to 9.2 percent, while Carson City was down 1.8 points at 9.5 percent.
Summertime — especially around the Independence Day holiday — historically is slow for JobConnect, says John Parel, northern Nevada business services manager for the state-run employment organization. However, JobConnect had a roughly 25-percent uptick in job orders the week of the July 4 holiday.
Bourbon Street, the new casino opening at the site of the old Silver Club in Sparks, placed 68 openings with JobConnect for a range of positions, including chefs, marketing, bar tender, casino cage, bussers, cashiers and guest services workers. The casino plans to open at the start of August to capitalize on the tens of thousands of Hot August Nights patrons who will visit Victorian Avenue.
Many casinos are having a harder time than in years past filling certain positions, Parel says, because of the influx of call centers that have located in Reno-Sparks in the past 18 months. Companies such as Great Call, CustomInk and Blackhawk Network offer starting salaries well above the pay scale of certain casino jobs, and a host of former casino workers have transitioned to better-paying customer service jobs.
“Even for staffing agencies it is hard to find housekeeping in casinos,” Parel says. “Right now we have about four our five (casinos) that all are having hard time. The effect of a lot of these companies coming in with higher salaries than others is that it forces salaries up in lot of entry-level positions. There is a slow creep on salaries as demand gets higher.”
Tom Miller, director of staffing and recruiting solutions for Applied Staffing Solutions, agrees that the increase in regional call centers has thinned the ranks of prospective employees for other industries. Miller says this summer so far has been a topsy-turvy affair at Applied Staffing Solutions — clients that usually are soft during the summer months have been strong, and vice-versa.
Applied Staffing Solutions is up between 5 and 10 percent in billable hours this year. Though the company has seen strong demand for call center and clerical workers, warehousing has been unusually soft.
“It has been a very unique summer,” Miller says. “We are having a great year, but things aren’t the same year-over-year. You just gotta figure it out and roll with it.”
Demand for warehouse workers is beginning to pick up, Miller notes. Companies typically begin ramping up their staff in anticipation of the busy fall season. Warehousing jobs softened, he notes, because national consumer spending has been weak, and the region’s large distribution centers have lower volumes of merchandise to store and ship.
Jobs that remain hard to fill typically require a unique skill set, such as the ability to speak Korean, Portuguese, or a specific dialect of Chinese, or a specific computer language for CNC machine operators. Lab tech positions also have proven difficult to fill. Job seekers with strong Excel, Word and Outlook skills, however, are finding quick placement.
Other positions remain open, Miller says, because job seekers referred to Applied Staffing Solutions to complete a mandatory drug screening — Applied is the only state-certified staffing agency with a lab for in-house drug testing — fail that pre-employment requirement. Other times, qualified candidates with sterling resumes can’t meet the drug-free requirement, either, Miller says.
Statewide the transportation, warehousing and utilities sub-sector is close to its former annual peak set in 2008 of 54,300 jobs, but Reno-Sparks shed 100 jobs in that sector from April to May. Manufacturing in the Truckee Meadows was flat the past two months, while mining added 200 new jobs and professional and business services added 900 jobs month-over month. Carson City added 100 trade and transportation jobs in May and gained an additional 200 government jobs.
The biggest loser in Reno-Sparks was the construction industry, which shed 500 jobs from April to May, the Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation says. However, John Skowronek, health and safety director for Square One Solutions, has seen a 50-percent year over year increase in attendance for the OSHA 10-hour safety and training classes at his training company in Reno.
Square One Solutions also offers temporary labor staffing, and Skowronek says demand is down slightly from years past, but demand for temporary labor should spike towards late summer and early fall as regional construction projects ramp up before the cold weather hits.