February 23, 1998 in Nation/World

N. Idaho Labor Pool Evaporating New Employers Create Better Paying Jobs, Forcing Area Firms To Compete

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Panhandle employers are finding it’s taking twice as long to fill jobs compared with a year ago.

There are more - and better - jobs for blue-collar and white-collar workers, and fewer people to apply for them.

A population growth slowdown, a booming national economy and an influx of higher-paying employers is stiffening competition to attract the region’s workers.

“Many employers are complaining about their ability to retain workers at this particular time, and we are seeing fewer applicants for most jobs than we used to,” said Kathryn Tacke, a labor market analyst with the Idaho Department of Labor.

The tight labor market is good news for workers, who are seeing wages edge up in response.

That’s most evident at GTE Northwest’s new $10 million order-processing center, expected to open in April with 65 jobs paying between $8.50 and $14 an hour - salaries well above Kootenai County’s average wage.

“We are proud of that,” said Jobs Plus President Bob Potter.

More competition for workers could mean less profit for local corporations that haven’t adjusted to the market with higher wages or better benefits.

“We have traditionally had so much labor available that employers haven’t had to go through the efforts that employers have been going through in other areas of the country,” Tacke said.

Nationally, the bustling economy has created a serious labor shortage. Locally, most of the competition remains in the lower-paying jobs, especially those that are part-time or seasonal.

“We are not really in a labor shortage situation, it’s just that the labor market is much tighter than it was and employers aren’t used to that in our area.”

Some employers will lose workers to GTE, Tacke predicted, due in part to the company’s higher-than-average wages, benefits and good reputation.

When new employers move in, it’s normal for employees to look for different opportunities for skill development, promotion possibilities or a varied work environment.

Nervous that the labor pool may not be able to support its expansion, Coldwater Creek is holding off on plans for a new Coeur d’Alene call center.

The Sandpoint mail-order company confirmed this week that despite owning land near Hecla Mining Co. in Coeur d’Alene, it instead will renew its Ironwood property lease into 1999.

“Coldwater Creek was looking to expand its operations to peak at 500 employees but they want to step back and put that project on hold for now,” said David Gunter, director of corporate communications.

With Dakota Direct, a call center handling ‘Hooked on Phonics’ calls, and the recent addition of GTE’s center, Coldwater Creek is “taking a look at whether Coeur d’Alene can support 1,000 new jobs.”

Potter maintains it can.

“I know we have the labor market, but so far I haven’t convinced them,” Potter said.

Potter said Coldwater Creek may be sensitive after struggling with tight market conditions in Sandpoint recently. Over Christmas, the company had to recruit in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene to find workers to fill the seasonal increase in jobs.

But GTE is having no problem hiring, Potter pointed out.

“There were 500 people just laid off over at Egghead and I’ve got all those resumes on my desk,” he said. “I’ve been at this for 10 years and I see this labor market can handle it.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

LABOR SHORTAGE

In Kootenai County, it’s taking twice as long to fill jobs as a year ago, and there are significantly fewer applicants for open positions. As a result of increasingly tight labor availability, wages are starting to edge upwards. (source: Idaho Dept. of Labor)

Average Kootenai County wage for 1996: $21,187

Average wage at Jobs Plus-recruited companies: $23,000

Hourly wages at GTE Northwest’s new call center: range from $8.50 to $14 well above the county average. (source: Jobs Plus)

This sidebar appeared with the story: LABOR SHORTAGE In Kootenai County, it’s taking twice as long to fill jobs as a year ago, and there are significantly fewer applicants for open positions. As a result of increasingly tight labor availability, wages are starting to edge upwards. (source: Idaho Dept. of Labor) Average Kootenai County wage for 1996: $21,187 Average wage at Jobs Plus-recruited companies: $23,000 Hourly wages at GTE Northwest’s new call center: range from $8.50 to $14 well above the county average. (source: Jobs Plus)

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