SAVANNAH — The call has gone out around the Coastal Empire for more than a year now.
The jobs are coming!
The jobs are coming!
But who’s doing the calling? Paul Revere? Or Aesop’s boy who cried wolf?
The answer appears to be both. Manufacturing, the sector that prompted such optimism, promised “4,000 jobs in the funnel over the next three years,” as a Savannah Economic Development Authority official said last December.
Manufacturers are delivering. The newest large employers, such as Mitsubishi and Firth Rixson, and existing companies expanding their operations here, like Gulfstream and JCB, are bulking up and expect to meet or exceed initial labor projections.
Yet the sector has seen little net job growth since July 2010. Manufacturing jobs are up seven-tenths of a percentage point during that span, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.
The low growth can be attributed to two factors: a dearth of skilled labor locally and the fragile nature of the economy.
The highly technical nature of the jobs has slowed the pace of hiring. Economic woes have discouraged small manufacturers from ramping up and led to losses of existing businesses, such as window component maker AllMetal, which shuttered its Savannah plant this year
“You can’t prevent natural catastrophes or global downturns. Those things are detrimental and eliminate jobs, and there’s nothing you can really do to prevent it,” said Steve Weathers, president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. “What you can do is plow forward, create new opportunities at the front end of the plow. As long as we look to create, grow and attract new opportunities like we did over the last two years, we’ll be fine.”
Hiring at the area’s manufacturing heavy hitters hint that days bright enough to hurt the eyes lie ahead.
• Gulfstream already has exceeded its hiring projections for the expansion announced late last year. The company has added 1,300 jobs so far this year.
• Firth Rixson announced it would expand its new Liberty County plant, which just opened in January, and add an additional 75-100 jobs.
• Mitsubishi will “easily” hit its projections of 160 employees by the end of the year and will add another 30 workers in early 2012. JCB also is on pace to meet its goal of adding 200 new workers by the end of the year.
• JLA Home has decided to expand its new Savannah operations and should surpass its initial hiring projections of 100 workers by mid 2012.
• Dollar Tree’s distribution center expansion (68 jobs) will be completed soon and new plants for Great Dane Trailers (400 jobs) in Statesboro and Daniel Defense (100 jobs) in Ridgeland remain on pace to open early next year.
“We’re seeing a building process with a lot of good news coming out; it’s just going to take some time for that to show up in the numbers,” said Benjamin McKay with Georgia Southern University’s Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development. “Once those jobs come on line, it’s going to replace most of the jobs we lost.
“Patience is truly a virtue right now.”
Another employer tied to long-term manufacturing growth is the Georgia Ports Authority. The GPA currently boasts 973 employees, up 77 jobs since September 2010, and the terminals are expanding to handle increased business.
More ships mean more demand for those who load and unload freighters, the longshoremen and stevedores.
The local longshoremen’s association has seen its rolls grow by 25 percent this year. Once the Savannah harbor is deepened and the super post-Panamax ships start to call here, the longshoremen workforce could double, association head Willie Seymour said.
Manufacturing job growth affects the local economy in multiple ways, Armstrong Atlantic State University economist Michael Toma said.
Manufacturers draw from the skilled and unskilled pools of the local workforce, with training programs such as Georgia QuickStart aiding current residents. Local hires reduce unemployment and boost consumer confidence and spending.
The jobs likely will create a boom in in-migration as well. Statistically speaking, 50-66 percent of new manufacturing jobs are filled by workers from outside the area, Toma said.
In-migration affects real estate and spurs development growth.
“On one hand, the local residents say, ‘Why not hire us?’, but on the other hand, in-migration helps the economy,” Toma said. “It drives up the per capita income, and that spills over to create more economic opportunities.”
In-migration for manufacturing jobs already is under way. Home sales in west Chatham and Effingham and Bryan counties have been strong this year, and real-estate agents specializing in those areas confirm many of their relocating clients are new employees at the manufacturers.
An influx of new residents leads to new businesses and jobs in other sectors and industries such as retail and services.
“The value of new jobs to our regional economic structure cannot be overstated,” Toma said. “Jobs are the economy.”