Franklin County is experiencing record low unemployment rates, which has both positive and negative implications.
At approximately 3.5 percent unemployment, “I don’t know if we’ve ever been lower,” said Union Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder.
On the positive side, residents are able to find a job with relative ease. Consequently, companies seeking out employees may be having a more difficult time filling open positions.
It’s a delicate balance, Schmieder noted.
“When companies have standing vacancies, that hurts their bottom line,” he said. “Similarly, for our residents, you want full employment.”
To help both residents and companies, the city of Union has partnered with East Central College, the Union School District and the Union Area Chamber of Commerce.
“One of the things that we’re doing is trying to create a pipeline for high school students who are recent or future graduates, so that they are being made aware of the opportunities available for them if they’re entering the workforce,” Schmieder said.
East Central College has a registered apprenticeship program for students who plan to enter the workforce but still want job training.
“East Central College works hand in hand with local companies to train students to become qualified workers,” Schmieder said.
Additionally, companies are being invited to set up recruitment booths in the Union High School cafeteria during lunch.
“That way kids recognize there are opportunities right here,” he said. “You don’t have to leave the area.”
For the first time, in 2017 the city also partnered with the high school for the business expo.
“We’re trying to make it more of a career fair, so students not only see the company profiles, but they see the opportunities that are out there,” Schmieder said.
In 2017, the city had several major accomplishments in terms of economic development.
Retaining Heat and Control as a local company was a huge accomplishment, particularly for Union, Schmieder said.
Heat and Control is a food processing, packaging and weighing equipment manufacturer with manufacturing facilities and sales support offices worldwide.
The company acquired Spray Dynamics, St. Clair, in 2011, and outgrew the facility there. There was some talk of the company leaving the area, but “being able to keep those jobs here was a huge accomplishment,” Schmieder said.
Volpe Italian Foods also came online with its plant in 2017, which will add 50 more jobs to the industrial park.
Finishing Corporate Drive also was a significant accomplishment in 2017, Schmieder said. The road was extended for Heat and Control and opened approximately 45 acres in the park for development.
The road was funded by the Union Development Corporation (UDC), which owns and develops land in the corporate center.
“We’re consistently working on attracting another company to that area,” Schmieder said. “We have over 600 jobs within the Union Corporate Center, and that’s fantastic.”
He added that there are great job numbers at the industrial park in the north side of Union and that many companies are talking about expansion and/or adding shifts.
“I think the recent tax cut program is going to be great for local companies and industries and hopefully we see continued growth,” he said.
Schmieder said site visits and meetings with local industries will continue throughout 2018. Companies that are hiring are being profiled on social media on the Chamber’s Facebook page and in the weekly newsletter.
The city also is working to certify a 25-acre site in the Union Corporate Center, to create a shovel-ready site for potential developers.
“It’s a great way to highlight the opportunities within our community and let companies interested in our area or (interested in) expansion know what’s available,” he said.
The city also will continue partnerships with ECC, the Union School District and Chamber to develop a strong workforce.