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Help wanted

It's been increasingly difficult for Nikki Jones to fill her clients' job vacancies in recent years.

But with Jackson County's seasonally adjusted jobless rate slipping to 4.0 percent in February, the lowest point in a quarter of a century, it's getting even harder for the owner of Express Employment to meet the demand.

"Employers still have a great need, because jobs are going unfilled longer," Jones said. "They have tended to have more urgency when they call in the last six months because they were afraid positions were going to go unfilled for a greater length of time."

Despite a civilian labor force — defined by the government as those working and those actively seeking work — growing by 2,127 over the past year, employers can't find enough help.

During 2016, Oregon Employment Department Regional Economist Guy Tauer noted Rogue Valley employers classified more than 70 percent of job vacancies as difficult to fill. Statewide, that figure is 64 percent.

"That points to pretty tight labor markets," Tauer said. "For many industries, it's a good time to look for work. It will continue to be challenging for employers to fill vacant positions with qualified job seekers for the foreseeable future."

There is no immediate solution on the horizon. Lack of skills hinder some applicants, while background checks derail others.

"We've had to expand a number of resources we use," Jones said. "We're much more diligent at keeping up with social media, and have made a greater investment in our website."

Search engine optimization has become more important so that the company's listings hit the top of the screen.

"We have to get in contact with potential candidates faster and make sure we respond accordingly when people inquire about our jobs."

Among the hardest positions to fill, Jones said, are higher-level accounting positions, executive assistants and administrators. In the skilled trades, millwrights, machine operators and welders are hard to find.

At the same time, she said entry-level manufacturing roles are often in a state of flux.

"People will move from one company to another for 50 cents an hour more or to be 50 miles closer to home," Jones said.

Led by a 1,040-job gain in the retail trade sector, the county has added 2,670 jobs in the past year, a 3.2 percent gain, which is slightly more than the state growth rate.

Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show total payroll employment climbed by 670 jobs in February from January. Leisure and hospitality began a seasonal upturn in February, with 160 jobs added over the month.

Manufacturing has shown recent employment weakness both locally and statewide. In February, manufacturing lost 60 jobs in Jackson County, for a year-over-year loss of 0.5 percent. Statewide, manufacturing employment declined by 0.2 percent since February 2016.

"We're always at the mercy of the business cycle," Tauer said. "But there are no flashing warning signs that we're about to roll off the rail anytime soon."

He noted the Office of Economic Analysis forecasts a slightly lower growth rate in Oregon's economic expansion.

"We're following that trend in the Rogue Valley, too," he said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the local manufacturing sector has shed 50 jobs in the past year.

"Oregon manufacturing really picked up coming out of the recession," he said. "Statewide it's plateaued, and there has been retrenchment locally. It may be a temporary pause. Manufacturing typically pays a little better and tends to have better benefits than some service industry jobs; so we pay close attention."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Madison Richey of Truckee, California, tries out a ribbon wand for sale Tuesday at Paddington Station in Ashland. Growth in the retail sector helped bring Jackson County's unemployment rate down to 4.0 percent. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]