Mount Airy ranked low for jobs

An open call for applications draws a crowd of about 300 people at the Cracker Barrel in Mount Airy on Wednesday. Slated to open later this summer, restaurant managers plan on hiring about 200 employees.

John David Marshall, left, of Ararat, Virginia, and Logan Harris, of Mount Airy, wait in a line of about 300 job applicants at the new Cracker Barrel on U.S. 601 in Mount Airy. Slated to open later this summer, restaurant managers plan on hiring about 200 new employees.

Celia Snow, of Pilot Mountain, is hired Wednesday afternoon at the new Cracker Barrel restaurant on U.S. 601, after attending an open call for applications. Slated to open later this summer, restaurant managers plan on hiring about 200 new employees.

A list of the ten worst places to get a job in North Carolina recently appeared on the Internet – with Mount Airy coming in at number eight.

The website, citing data obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Sperling’s Best Places, ranked towns in the state of with more than 5,000 people according to their unemployment rate, recent job growth, future job growth and median household income level.

According to the list, despite a relatively low unemployment rate, “slow recent job growth and a median income level in the bottom 20% of places in North Carolina landed Mount Airy on this list.”

It’s tempting to let an article like this float down the river with the rest of what people don’t like or agree with on the Internet, especially when considering the source: the author is unidentifiable, the site owner anonymous. The website writes that Zippia “follows the pattern used by many fraudulent and fake selling websites.”

The data used is at best outdated. For example, BLS shows Mount Airy’s unemployment rate to be at 5 percent, as opposed to Zippia’s 6.3 percent, and no statistics are provided to back up the claim of of slow recent job growth.

But it’s still worth asking: is Mount Airy a good place to get a job?

“It’s not booming,” said Surry County Economic Development Partnership President Todd Tucker. “Are we announcing companies coming here or expanding with 100, 2o0 new jobs or expanding? No, not really.”

Steve Yokeley, Mount Airy commissioner and mayor pro tem, agreed. “The job situation in Mount Airy is not nearly as good as we would like to have it,” he said.

However, both say that one of the biggest challenges regarding employment in the area is not a shortage of jobs.

“When we talk to our existing companies, they talk about how hard it is to find people to come to work,” Tucker said. “The job market way outstrips the availability of those workers.”

Tucker said these jobs, typically in manufacturing, production and healthcare, go unfilled often because the workforce is either under- or over-qualified for the types of skilled labor required.

Programs at Surry Community College have been implemented to try and close the so-called “skills gap,” said Yokeley.

“A lot of people are able to go ahead and start working right away,” he said. “The college can train them with additional skills while they are working.”

Randy Collins, president and CEO of The Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said the upcoming opening of a Cracker Barrel, illustrates how the skills gap works in the opposite direction.

The Cracker Barrel will provide up to 200 jobs, but that those jobs are in specific sectors, hospitality and food and beverage. “That doesn’t help the CPA graduating from Wake Forest,” he said.

But a shortage of those types of higher paying jobs is not unique to this area.

“Universities are graduating record numbers with advanced degrees and that are struggling to find work,” Tucker said. “It really is a regional and national phenomenon.”

In addition to the programming at Surry Community College, strategies to improve the job situation include continued efforts to bring new businesses to the area while encouraging existing businesses to expand.

But business is slow in that department as well. Low availability of buildings, sites and a skilled workforce make it difficult to attract new business, Tucker said. “If anything the market has gotten tighter.”

Yokeley said the city has changed how tax incentives are used.

“The big focus is going to be on how many jobs it creates that are above the minimum wage in Surry County,” he said, as opposed to how much investment is expected. “The higher the salaries the more the incentive.”

Collins concluded that despite the challenges faced, Mount Airy is not a specifically bad place to get a job.

“Anybody that’s out there in the job market today in North Carolina or the U.S., it’s a tight job market,” he said, explaining that the city and county provide many resources for job-seekers.

“We would probably disagree with the finding of the website,” Collins said. “It is not reflective of a community that supports people who are looking for work.”

comments powered by Disqus