MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 7, 2013

Area unemployment rate seen as economic bright spot

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Muskogee has some economic issues that need to be addressed, but there are bright spots, an economy expert said during a presentation Wednesday.

“For Muskogee, employment overall is pretty good,” said Diedre Myers of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “Most people in Muskogee reported they were working.”

Myers gave a “State of the Local Economy” presentation during the “Economic Development 2013 Summit, Muskogee By the Numbers” luncheon Wednesday at Three Forks Harbor.

The luncheon also featured a segment on competitive analysis and workforce projection.

Muskogee County’s unemployment is a bit higher than in the state, which had a nearly perfect unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in December.

It’s less than 6 percent right now, “so Muskogee has households in distress that need help, but does not have a distressed economy,” Myers said.

Unemployment numbers reveal the equilibrium between labor supply and demand in the area, which economic development experts say is crucial to attracting new industries.

“A 5 percent is a perfect number, but going lower isn’t all that good,” Myers said. “Businesses do not want to see 2.5 percent unemployment because that means you don’t have the labor force available to hire.”

More than 5 percent is also not great, “because that means you have distressed households (who can’t find employment),” she said.

Regional manufacturing rates show Muskogee has 58 manufacturing jobs per 1,000 people, and manufacturing is “absolutely vital” for Muskogee, Myers said.

“There is some work to be done, though,” she said.

The trend in Muskogee’s unemployment rate over the last five years or so shows a need for skills training for many of the unemployed, Myers said.

In 2008, about 1,000 people in the city were unemployed but were unable to find new jobs.

About 2,000 people are looking for work in Muskogee now, according to Commerce Department data.

“What those numbers tell us is there are about 1,000 people who need significant motivation or skill improvements to get employed,” Myers said. “Educational attainment is the great equalizer in our economy.”

One way to bring the educational attainment up among job seekers is to focus on “career tech” education, such as those certifications that can be earned at Indian Capital Technology Center, she said.

Eighty percent of the jobs in today’s economy require a certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or advanced degree, she said.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.