While the number of jobs has increased nationwide during the past six months, some Middle Georgia business owners say they want to see a stronger economy before adding to their work force.
The labor market grew nationwide with increases in almost every industry, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Labor. Non-farm payroll employment added 200,000 jobs, which exceeded expectations, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly three years.
But Chuck Stroud, owner and president of contractor Stroud and Co. in Macon, is waiting for more projects to come his way before he’ll add workers.
“I’m getting a few more calls, and we keep getting projects, but it’s not the volume you would have seen two or three years ago,” Stroud said. “So, on the economy prospective, I’m kind of neutral. I’m not as negative as I was six months ago, but I’m not positive either.”
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Stroud said he did what a lot of companies did the past few years and cut a few workers, and he didn’t fill positions when employees left.
“Now the guys we’ve got, we keep them busy, but we are going to stretch them and let them do overtime before we start adding employees,” he said. “We are down as low as we want to be. Before we put on new employees, we’ll use subcontractors.”
Also in the construction business, Macon-based L.E. Schwartz & Son Inc., a full-service roofing company, has not hired new workers in a long time with no plans to do so unless a big project comes along.
“People in the private sector are still very cautious about spending money,” said Steve Kruger, the company’s president. “It’s kind of hand-to-mouth as far as the business available to you, and it’s very competitive in the marketplace because people are worried about when and where the next (project) is coming from.”
The national unemployment rate for the construction industry was 16 percent for December, down from 20 percent for the same month last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In terms of unemployment, it has the highest percentage of any industry.
“Most projections are that it’s going to be flat for the construction business, no question about it,” said L.E. Schwartz CEO Melvin Kruger.
The company has about 110 employees, down from about 150 in 2006, Steve Kruger said.
Sam Raffield, co-owner of Macon-based Raffield Tire-Masters Inc., said “things are very weak” in the tire industry.
The company has nine locations, which include eight retail tire and auto service businesses and one that serves the commercial tire business.
“Each month it’s a little different story, but in 2011 the commercial business was a little better earlier in the year, but December was really bad,” Raffield said. “On the retail side ... people in Middle Georgia are really struggling. They are buying just the minimum they can get away with. It’s tough going right now in both Macon and Warner Robins.”
The company employs 90 workers, and in the past, some of those workers were allowed to work overtime to add to their paycheck, but that’s not been happening lately, he said.
“As we lose folks through attrition, we are not replacing them,” he said.
A midstate company that has added workers and is planning to add more is Riverside Ford Lincoln Inc.
“It’s looking much better than the previous three years,” said CEO and general manager Terry Tiller. “We had a very good December. ... We were very pleased.”
Riverside Ford recently hired two people to work exclusively with Internet leads, Tiller said. The company has had online sales for some time, but it wasn’t set up the way it is now.
“All they will do is follow the leads and set up appointments for people,” he said. “That’s a whole new ballgame for us. I’m looking for 20 to 30 additional sales a month from these two ladies. ... We sold two cars off of it the first day.”
Tiller said he thinks the increase in sales is coming from pent-up demand. Some of the vehicles he accepts on trade-in have high mileage.
Riverside Ford is planning to hire three more sales people during the first quarter, he said.
“We are looking for 2012 to be a good year for us -- not like the old days, but much, much better,” he said.
Marietta-based YKK Corp. of America, which has a zipper plant in Macon and an architectural products plant in Dublin, saw orders -- and employment -- holding steady through 2011, said Alex Gregory, chairman, president and CEO.
The company employs about 650 people in Macon and about 350 in Dublin.
“We are not increasing employment, but we are not decreasing employment either,” Gregory said. “We replace people when we need to. ... Our hope is that many store shelves and warehouses will need to be replenished in the short term, thus generating lots of orders for our products.”