Wyoming, United States needs workers to fill job openings
01 November 2006
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Wyoming has good work, and lots of it. The rural state in the west of the United States is experiencing an economic boom and is having trouble filling job positions across a wide variety of occupations.
A job as a welder for a mine-services company pays far better than the same welding work in Michigan, especially when the opportunity for overtime factored in. And, unlike the jobs in Michigan, it's not in danger of disappearing any time soon.
Many states in the U.S. are experiencing difficult unemployment problems. The heavily industrialized state of Michigan is one, with an extremely serious slump in American automobile manufacturing. Within the U.S., a new migration trend westward is being noted.
As one result of an aggressive recruiting campaign on the part of job-rich and labour-poor Wyoming, many workers and their families are reconsidering their willingness to leave roots and relatives behind in search of a more secure future. Wyoming is a region in the throes of an oil, gas, and coal boom.
Employers in Wyoming are hoping that many more will follow, and soon. For nearly a year, several county economic development councils and companies have targeted Michigan in particular, with its large pool of skilled, blue-collar labour and dwindling jobs, to try and fill the state's thousands of job openings. And they're having some success.
Campbell County - which produces more than 35% of the coal used for the nation's electricity - is filled with evidence of the boom. Lines of trucks and cars wind through roads in an otherwise barren landscape. Gas wells dot scrubland near the highway. Houses are going up all over.
Unemployment in the county is 1.7% - compared with 3.6% for the state and 7.1% in Michigan. The mineral industry has given Wyoming a budget surplus of nearly $2 billion - evidence of which is seen in new schools, civic centres, and infrastructure springing up.
In the tiny town of Wright, for instance, the population of 1,500 has four or five new playgrounds, a stocked fishing pond for kids, a new library, and a recreation centre with an indoor pool.
Such a boom has a downside too, though, as many families learn when they try to find a place to live, especially if they also need to sell a home in a depressed market similar to Michigan's. Folks from other parts of the country face similar choices, but some, including immigrants, have already planned carefully for full relocation and have a competitive edge.
The growing population has sent housing prices soaring, and many newcomers have to wait months just to find a place that's available. Motels are filled with labourers, and many companies need to offer temporary housing to lure workers. The services sector has also had a hard time finding and keeping workers, with so many jobs available to choose from.
Local officials hope that once the county is able to lure more skilled workers for the high-paying energy-related jobs, their "trailing spouses" and other family members will follow. Hopefully, they will fill some of the many service and part-time positions.
Back in Michigan, welding work on water heaters is boring and monotonous work that pays some $30,000 to $40,000 a year. A welder with those qualifications can now work in a Wyoming firm repairing and building massive coal mining equipment.
Currently, overtime work, with 14-hour shifts, are available to people who want them. It's not difficult to make six figures for the year.
In Michigan, a company recently received 10,000 applications for 35 jobs. The joke in Wyoming is that 10,000 jobs are available but only 35 applicants.
The area's employers don't want just any workers - they have a critical need for heavy equipment operators, electricians, welders, mechanics, and other skilled labourers.
The growing population, though, is creating some need for a few other professions too. Richard Andriaens, Gillette's chief of police, moved here from Michigan, nearly two years ago. Budget cuts forced him to take an early retirement from the police department there, and as he scanned Michigan for police chief openings, he happened across an advertisement for Gillette, Campbell County's largest town.
"I thought, if we're going to move an hour, why not 20 hours?" he remembers. Since then, he's brought three more Michiganders to the department, and is going back on another recruiting trip in November. Wyoming is recruiting from many other locations in the U.S., also.
The lack of shopping has been a bit tough for his wife, but mostly he says it's been a welcome change. "I used to commute to work with half the number of people in this entire state," he says.
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