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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011

Signs indicate slow but steady increase in local job openings

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bed Bath & Beyond on Monroe Street advertises for applicants. Columbia Gas of Ohio, Buckeye CableSystem, and McDonald's also seek workers. Bed Bath & Beyond on Monroe Street advertises for applicants. Columbia Gas of Ohio, Buckeye CableSystem, and McDonald's also seek workers.
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It's not a full-blown boom, but signs are increasing that the number of local job openings is rising at last.

Columbia Gas of Ohio is hiring 125 employees statewide, including 30 in northwest Ohio, to help with pipeline replacement.

The positions will pay $25 to $35 an hour, a utility spokesman said.

Bed Bath & Beyond is looking for staff, Buckeye CableSystem is advertising for 20 part-time employees for its call center, and McDonald's Inc. plans to hire 50,000 nationwide on April 19.

"We've been seeing not large numbers of jobs, but rather a steady stream of a small number of jobs coming in," said Michael Veh, work-force development manager at The Source of Northwest Ohio, Lucas County's one-stop help center for unemployed workers. "Business is starting to ramp up."

Mark Schweitzer, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, said an increase in hiring fits with typical recovery trends for a recession.

"It is true that we're seeing a little bit of an uptick in hiring in the national data," Mr. Schweitzer said. Several surveys of supply managers indicate they plan to hire this spring, including the Federal Reserve Bank's own survey of Cleveland-area employers.

"They are definitely more positive," he said.

When the country comes out of a recession, it generally goes through several stages, the economist added. It goes from layoffs and reduced hiring, to fewer layoffs but a freeze in hiring, and finally to no layoffs and a small amount of hiring.

"We're kind of entering in that last stage," Mr. Schweitzer said. "But can it be sustained?"

Still, metro Toledo continues to struggle. The latest unemployment for the metro area is 10.9 percent, with more than 35,000 people out of work. In Toledo alone, the latest rate is 15.2 percent, with more than 15,000 jobless.

Chris Kozak, a spokesman for Columbia Gas, said the jobs it will fill begin right away and could last a while because Columbia Gas has committed to spending $2 billion to upgrade its pipelines over the next 25 years.

Six hundred applicants have applied since the job openings were announced last week.

A manager at Bed Bath & Beyond said the retailer put out its "help wanted" sign in anticipation of upcoming needs.

A group of five applicants toured the store yesterday as part of the orientation process, the manager said.

Michael Gruber, chief client officer for RightThing Inc. of Findlay, a company that handles mass hiring for many large companies, said his firm has been getting notices from clients in need of new employees since the end of 2010.

"After 2008 and 2009 a lot of companies really had to lay low and not hire anybody," he said. "But in mid to late last year things started to definitely pick up and slowly start to increase.

"What's happening right now, from our perspective, is there is steady hiring across industries."

Calls for new hires are no longer from just the medical field, but also from pharmaceuticals, biotech, retail, and even manufacturing, he said.

"They are either expanding their sales forces or maybe adding a line in manufacturing and adding a whole component of engineers all at once," Mr. Gruber said.

"Some openings are 50 jobs at a time, some 100." Although the hiring floodgates haven't opened, Mr. Gruber said, "there are positive vibes all around now."

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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