The voices are loud from the nation’s capital.
One candidate shouts that he, and he alone, knows how to fix the economy. The other candidate says the same.
In either sense, the economy is not, at the very least, out of the woods yet. But all the clamor from national and state sources is drowning out the quiet whispers from the job market in the county. Manufacturers are expanding, health services are adding on extensions to their building and the unemployment rate is gradually (if slowly) getting better.
The economic state of Pittsburg obviously took a hit when Superior Industries left in December 2008. Hundreds of jobs — an estimated 600 or so — went with it. There’s no getting around how much that hurt.
But there is some getting on with it. Not even four years later, and hundreds of new jobs have been added to the city’s labor market. It doesn’t all add up to 600 jobs, but it helps narrow the gap.
Atkinson Industries is planning to double in its labor force and as of early March, had already hired 17 people since the previous fall. There are also plans in the works to expand the facility in order to meet demands of incoming projects there.
What about Masonite? They’re adding 65 jobs after certain lines are being moved to the region.
Then there’s the host of news from this week’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, which approved of forgivable loans for three expansion projects. Those projects are dependent upon bringing in new jobs to the community.
Helping to fill the literal void left by Superior is Jake’s Fireworks, who will be moving their operations to the former Superior building and expanding their job force by 15 over a three-year period.
Jake’s has also told city officials that if a business that will bring 500-600 jobs wants to come to the area and take that building, they will make way. But for now, Jake’s will put the facility to good use rather than letting the space just sit there.
Via Christi Hospital will build a 40,000 square foot surgical center on its current property. That project will bring 61 new employees, not to mention the jobs added in ancillary positions such as therapy, diagnostic imaging, etc. The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas is more than doubling its square footage with an expansion project, and has promised to hire 42 people within four years of the end of construction.
Combined, Via Christi and CHC-SEK will bring more than 100 jobs to the Pittsburg area. Not just any jobs, but medical jobs, which come with a higher pay grade than most. In fact, Via Christi estimates the direct salary impact of their 61 new jobs to be $7.8 million. That’s $8 million that will largely be spent on Pittsburg and Crawford County homes, businesses, restaurants and entertainment.
There are many other stories of businesses expanding, adding jobs and hiring on. That’s not to say the economy’s robust — it’s not. However, the economy is starting to bounce back from the loss of Superior.
The unemployment rate is getting better. It’s been stuck around the same mark for several months, but compared to a year ago, it’s down dramatically. In this area, it’s about 6.7 percent.
If you want to look, there is plenty about the economy to still give a person worry, heartburn and nausea. If you want to look, there’s also plenty about the local economy that shows signs of turning around.
The 600 jobs Superior took aren’t going to come back all at once. But if 20 companies hire 30 apiece, then the effect is the same. Already, close to 200 jobs are promised and more could be on the way.
The scars still show of the effects of Superior’s departure crossed by the effects of what some are calling the Great Recession. But the scars from both are healing in Pittsburg.
— The Morning Sun