AUGUSTA, Maine – While the unemployment rate is up and there seem to be daily headlines about businesses closing, Maine is still seeing net growth in the number of jobs throughout the state.
“From May of 2007 to May of 2008 there were about 700 net new jobs,” said John Dorrer, director of the Center for Workforce Research and Information in the Department of Labor. “It has been a really mixed bag of job gains and job losses all across the state.”
Over that same time period, the unemployment rate increased from 4.7 percent to 5.4 percent.
He said that much of the job growth has been “a few” jobs at a time, and that although the numbers add up to several thousand new jobs over the year, thousands of jobs also were lost over that same time period.
“This has been the story of this economy,” Dorrer said. “We are down in one part and we are going up in other parts of the economy, and it is a mixed story.”
He said the “winners” were health care-related jobs, up about 1,000, and administrative support jobs that are up about 900, as well as leisure and hospitality jobs up about 400. In addition, the arts, entertainment and recreation, and the retail categories were up about 200 jobs each.
He said the big “losers” were the construction industry with a loss of about 1,000 jobs, manufacturing down about 700 jobs, and financial down about 400 jobs.
Many other job classifications had slight growth or small losses over the year with a net job growth over all the classifications of about 700 jobs.
Economic and Community Development Commissioner John Richardson said he has no hard statistics on where the jobs have grown. But he said they range from retailers adding a new clerk to a niche manufacturer adding four jobs to handle additional orders to a call center adding dozens of jobs.
“It’s where we see the growth, in the small gains of a few jobs at a time,” he said. “The mill closing gets the headlines while the growth of a few jobs at a time does not.”
He said there has been “stable” growth in jobs in the state, despite the economy. He said one of his tasks has been to “overcome” the feeling of many employers that the state’s economy is so bad they should not expand.
“We are really focusing on job retention,” Richardson said. “We are focusing on helping businesses that we already have in the state continue to grow and add to the economy.”
He said the news media have made his job more difficult. He said that when a local newspaper was called to ask about coverage of a company adding 10 jobs, he was told it was not news.
“If it were a business closing or a factory shutting down, it would be on the front page,” Richardson said.
But, he acknowledged, there are obstacles to job growth besides the perception of problems with both Maine and the national economies. He said high energy prices are a real “cause for concern” for many employers.
“But there are also opportunities for others in this economy and we are seeing that with wood pellets and other alternative energy sources that entrepreneurs are looking at,” Richardson said. “That’s the free-market economy at work.”
He said the state has a number of programs to assist both new and existing businesses and said the Pine Tree Zones have helped many employers to decide to expand. But he wishes his budget for economic development had not been reduced.
“There is only so much you can do with limited resources,” Richardson said.
He said that while his agency has made efforts statewide to develop new jobs and expand existing businesses, not all counties are seeing growth. Dorrer agreed and said there are not only disparities in unemployment rates, but also significant differences in job growth across the state.
Cumberland County had the lowest unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, while Piscataquis had the highest unemployment rate at 9.5 percent.
In May, 668,900 Mainers were working. But more than a third of the jobs were in Cumberland and York counties.
Most Maine counties have seen net job growth, but Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and Piscataquis have seen a net decline in jobs.
“There is still the very real problem of some jobs going unfilled,” Dorrer said. “We have employers that need workers but cannot find the workers with the skill sets needed for the jobs.”
He said a major challenge for the state is connecting laid-off workers and those just joining the work force with the programs to train them for the jobs that exist. He said that while there are many tools available to help the unemployed, it has proved difficult to connect the laid-off worker in one area of the state to the job that exists far away in another part of the state.