Nevada companies say they’ll do some hiring in first quarter

The first quarter will bring middling improvements in hiring, but even those so-so gains will beat recent quarters for job growth.

That’s the word from several new reports predicting employment growth from January to March.

A growing number of Nevada companies say they expect to hire in the first three months of 2012, but they won’t add workers quickly enough to push joblessness down substantially in the Silver State.

What’s more, hiring will mostly remain limited to skilled workers in a few key sectors.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey found that 11 percent of companies it surveyed in the Silver State plan to hire in the first quarter, while 10 percent expect to cut payrolls. Nearly 75 percent say they’ll keep staff counts stable in the period. Combined, those responses yield a net employment outlook — the share of employers hiring minus the portion of employers who aren’t hiring — of 1 percent. That’s up from an outlook of -3 percent in the fourth quarter, though down from a 2 percent outlook in the first quarter of 2011.

“Companies have put their hiring decisions on hold for a couple of years, but they’re seeing positive signs of more economic activity,” said Andy Katz, president of Manpower of Southern Nevada. “They’re betting on things getting better, and they’re loosening the purse strings a bit. It feels like employers have a little more confidence in what’s going on in the economy.”

MILD OPTIMISM

Another study, from staffing firm Robert Half International, found that 16 percent of Nevada executives plan to add full-time staff in the first quarter, up from 10 percent in the second quarter of 2010, the first period in which the company began keeping statistics. Employers project a net increase of 5 percent in employment in the first quarter.

The hiring plans mean companies “are spending money to improve their business,” said Damian Garcia, Las Vegas market manager for Robert Half. “A lot of companies had to tighten their belts while things stabilized, but the increase in capital being spent reflects confidence in the market.”

And nationwide, the Business Roundtable revealed that 35 percent of CEOs said they’d add jobs in the first half of 2012.

National job growth is important because it means more discretionary income for travel and leisure spending, which in turn primes job formation in Nevada.

But expectations for growth are drawing only mild optimism from local employment observers.

That’s because most employers still aren’t hiring, and job formation is happening primarily in a few specific areas.

Manpower forecasts state and local growth in the financial sector; transportation and utilities; manufacturing of short-lived, nondurable items such as food, office supplies, clothing, rubber and plastics; leisure and hospitality; and government.

Employers in retail, education, health care and information technology expect steady staffing levels, the report said, while contractors, manufacturers of durable goods and professional firms anticipate work-force cuts, the report said.

Bill Werksman, managing partner of Las Vegas permanent-staffing firm Resource Partners, said he expects more first-quarter hiring inside hotel-casinos and among gaming-equipment manufacturers and health-care businesses. Gaming operators are adding people to handle rising occupancy rates, while equipment makers are doing brisk business as gambling expands worldwide. And there’s always a need for more health-care workers, he said.

“Companies have gone so long, running so lean, that they just can’t do it at current staffing levels anymore,” Werksman said.

“They’re starting to fill those positions of real need. A lot of businesses are thinking that the next few quarters will be a little better sales-wise, too.”

NO OVERNIGHT COMEBACK

But he added the targeted growth of the first quarter likely won’t drop the city’s 12.5 percent jobless rate more than two-tenths of a percentage point, as thousands of workers in industries such as construction will still have trouble finding jobs.

Garcia agreed that the first quarter will belong to workers with specialized skills or backgrounds. But as companies in important local industries such as gaming continue to staff up, the rest of the economy will eventually join the ride.

Service-oriented companies ranging from small catering vendors to accounting firms will recruit later in 2012 as their major hotel-casino clients expand, he said.

“We didn’t get here (to high unemployment) overnight, and we’re not going to come back overnight,” Garcia said. “For a lot of companies, confidence is still coming back. It’s not there just yet. But the trend is positive, and that’s showing good news for job seekers. It’s not the heyday. We’re still a ways off from single-digit unemployment, but it’s nice for businesses to see sequential, quarter-over-quarter growth.”

Katz said he’s “hopeful” that the first quarter’s relatively limited job growth will begin trickling through the rest of the local economy by mid-2012.

“I think we’ve definitely gone through the worst of it,” he said. “We’re seeing signs of the uptick now.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at
jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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