Ramsey: Morristown has more than 1,000 available jobs

Posted on Saturday, May 17, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Marshall Ramsey, president of the Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce, says Hamblen County is facing a problem of perception.

Outsiders see Hamblen County with easy access to America’s most popular tourism destination. They see access to relatively uncrowded, if lower than normal this year, lakes. They see low property taxes. They see industry expansion from the border with Greene County to the Jefferson County line.

They see retail development. They see new restaurants and shopping.

The see an award-winning county education system, continually recognized for doing more with less finances than other systems across the state and nation.

They see a local community college which is often noted as staying on the cutting edge of technology. They see a local technical center with a proven track record of turning out students capable of getting work in a variety of fields.

But despite all of that positive news, a single number hangs around the community’s neck like an albatross: the unemployment rate.

Though Hamblen County’s jobless rate of 6.9 percent is better than most of the surrounding area and at its’ lowest since 2008, it’s still higher than the state average. And, Ramsey says, that number feeds a false perception that pervades residents thinking from local politicians to every day citizens. Adding he sees the perception played out when residents answer the city of Morristown’s annual citizen survey.

Ramsey, who says his office fielded inquiries last week from seven industrial prospects and multiple retail prospects, hears the same refrain over and over: Hamblen County needs more jobs.

It makes sense on a surface level. If the jobless rate is high, that must mean Hamblen County doesn’t have enough jobs to go around.

The reality, and the crux of the problem of perception that Ramsey is battling, is that while Hamblen County is always looking for more retailers, more industries or more companies to locate here; the truth is there is a significant number of jobs available in Hamblen County right now.

“I am very confused as people tell me they can’t find work because I drive down the street daily and it is hard for me to find a company that isn’t hiring and in growth mode,” Ramsey said. “Just in Hamblen County alone, (on Tuesday), there were over 1,000 available and open jobs.”

Ramsey says there is something of a multi-faceted disconnect that feeds the pervasive public perception and that the solution isn’t easy or simple.

However, he says part of the solution starts with events like State Rep. Tilman Goins’ recent job fair which connected workers with available jobs.

He also pointed to an upcoming WorkNow! Inc. job fair scheduled for May 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“They will have the Career Coach from the Tennessee Career Center to assist with resume writing, job applications and other needs,” Ramsey said. “The Career Coach has access to these 1,000 open jobs as basically it is a career center on wheels.”

Ramsey also cited the ongoing work of the Mayors’ Workforce Development Task Force with is partnering with several agencies to help assist local industries in finding the types of workers needed while informing potential employees of the types of skills required to fill these empty positions.

“If you desire better wages and a better quality of life, you must be proactive in gaining the skills needed to earn the level of pay you want,” Ramsey said.

With the Common Core State Standards being debated in Nashville and across the state, the role of public education in workforce development inevitably comes to the fore.

Local industries look to the public schools and secondary schools to produce workforce ready employees.

The schools, which every year graduate a seemingly more impressive senior class, point to high-achieving students.

Some education experts contend industries must do a better job of recruiting the high achievers and making a career in Morristown as a serious option.

In short, they say, the employees are there if the industries are willing to do what it takes to pursue them.

There are other factors as well. Much of Morristown’s older workforce was trained in a time in which Hamblen County was among the biggest furniture manufacturing locales in the world.

Though, there has been some return of those jobs, many of the 1,000 openings require different skill sets, meaning good, hard workers often must be extensively retrained.

Also, like a vast majority of the country, Hamblen County faces a serious issue with prospective employees who can’t pass the required drug screenings.

Despite the chicken-and-egg aspects of the problem, Ramsey is quick to accentuate the positive, hoping that as citizens answer Morristown’s annual citizen survey, they try and see the bigger picture.

“There are counties that surround us that have 12 jobs, 15 jobs, available and we have over 1,000,” he said. “It is our citizens of Hamblen County that we promote and sell to recruit industry, retail, restaurants and recreation opportunities. Please help yourselves and your community by being prepared for the job that you do today or the new job you will take tomorrow.”

-By John Gullion, Tribune Managing Editor

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