Tiny increases in employment projected during 2011

Even with unemployment topping 13 percent in the Reno-Sparks area these days, the labor market feels tight when Katie Weigel goes out recruiting.

"Everything is hard to fill," says Weigel, division director in Reno for Robert Half International, a staffing firm that specializes in accounting and other professionals. "Employers are expecting a significantly higher quality of applicants than they did in the past."

Employers are likely to have the upper hand during 2011 once again - and maybe for several years to come - as job growth in Nevada is projected to be anemic. But even anemic growth would be better than the declines the state has experienced since 2008.

How anemic is job growth likely to be? Try 0.2 percent, a growth rate that would add fewer than 400 jobs to the Reno-Sparks economy during 2011, says Bill Anderson, chief economist for the research and analysis bureau of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

Even in 2012 and 2013, Anderson projects that job growth in the state will run only about 1 percent annually. That's a far cry from the 6 percent annual growth common before the recession.

At that rate, the number of jobs in Nevada in 2013 still will be smaller than the number at the start of 2009.

The problem: "There's no big catalyst out there," Anderson says.

Construction, which added nearly 9,000 jobs to the Reno-Sparks area from 1997 through 2007, has lost 12,000 jobs in the past three years.

Given large inventories of vacant housing, retail and office space and industrial buildings, the construction sector is unlikely to revive any time soon.

Gaming and hospitality, the second big driver of employment growth across Nevada during the boom, also is likely to remain soft until consumers nationwide feel that they are solidly back on their feet.

And even so, Anderson notes that the recession only accelerated a decline in gaming-related employment in the Reno area that had begun years before.

From 1997 until the start of the recession in 2008, Reno lost 2,100 jobs in the gaming industry - mostly as jurisdictions across the nation opened their doors to casinos - and the sector lost another 6,900 jobs in Reno and Sparks during the recession.

Mining continues as one of the few bright spots.

The state estimates that mining for precious metals - the dominant industry in Elko, Winnemucca and other eastern-Nevada communities - added 400 jobs in the past year. Unemployment in the Elko area is estimated at 7.6 percent. Even with the strength of mining, the state estimates that the Elko region lost 300 jobs in the past year.

Healthcare also has been relatively strong during the downturn, adding more than 500 jobs in the Reno-Sparks area during the past year. And other sectors show signs of life.

Weigel says the Robert Half International office, for instance, has seen more call for professionals with skills in geothermal development.

Financial analysts have been in demand, she says, as companies realize they may have cut too deeply during the early days of the recession.

Jim Annis, owner of The Applied Companies in Reno, says the company has seen a growing call for temporary workers to handle work at distribution and manufacturing companies that aren't yet confident enough to hire fulltime staff.

"Temporary staffing has been booming," Annis says. "People are still concerned about the long-term economy."

Another sign that the jobs market is beginning to stabilize is found in the average number of hours worked.

The figured peaked at 37.6 hours a week for workers in the private sector in mid-2007, but fell to 34.2 hours in October, the lowest level since the state started keeping track of the figure. During November, Anderson says, the number of hours worked increased by a small amount. "We're not there yet, but it's a start," he says.

The decline in hours has been especially painful, Anderson says, because average wages in the state also have fallen to $16.30 an hour from $18.45 before the recession.

"The coupled effect of less hours and pay results in a loss of roughly $82.96 per week for private sector workers," the economist says.


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