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Central Ohio Job Market Tightens, Puts Pressure On Wages

Ohio's jobless rate declined again last month. It's the latest sign that central Ohio's job market is turning in favor of workers. The tightening labor market helps job seekers but may put a brake on growth of some individual companies. Personal Economic Turnaround 21 year old Tori Lamont of Columbus came of age during the Great Recession. As a young adult trying to make it on her own. "I was struggling paying rent, struggling every month," says Lamont. For a while, Lamont waited tables. Her personal budget depended on available hours and tips. She often ran short on cash. Several months ago she landed a full time job at SK Food Group near Rickenbacker Airport. "And now, it's a turnaround, a complete turnaround, I was at a crossroads, I needed a job," adds Lamont. SK Food Group makes sandwiches and frozen food items for Panini, Starbucks and other chains. Incentives Attract Company To Central Ohio In return for a 10 year 55% income tax abatement, company executives promised to create 250 new jobs. Company president Steve Sposari "We'll exceed that," says Sposari. "That's probably one of the bigger challenges that we've been speaking to is just making sure that we have enough employees to accommodate the business we have here in Columbus." The Columbus plant has been in operation about six months. It supplies customers mostly east of the Mississippi River. And Sposari says he needs more workers. "Currently we employ over 375 individuals here at our Columbus plant. We believe that our actual employment number to achieve our production goal needs to be around 600," says Sposari. Labor Forces The company will have to recruit more aggressively for those workers. Ben Johnson at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says the labor force, those working and those looking for work, is getting smaller. "Over the last 12 months the size of Ohio's labor force shrank by 19,000," says Johnson. Johnson points to an increase in retirees and fewer young people entering the job market for the smaller labor pool. Central Ohio's unemployment rate is below 4 percent. CPA Robert Shenton at Plante Moran says that's near full employment for the region. "The increased demand for workers along with a shorter supply is putting pressure on wages. And so what I think we're seeing is the natural effect of an increase in wages in order to attract and secure talent," says Shenton. So far, Sposari says SK Food Group has not raised its starting pay of $10.25 to attract more potential workers. "I think it's pretty robust actually with where we're at right now as far as wages," says Sposari. More Aggressive Recruiting Instead, Chief Operations officer Jay Erskin is turning to those who recently lost temporary holiday jobs. "There was quite a bit of seasonal work that we would compete directly with so I think now that as we get into 2015 things will stabilize and it'll be somewhat easier to locate high quality associates that we want to bring," says Erskin. Erskin says the job market was a surprise to company officials after they decided to locate in Columbus. He says there's a "significant amount" of competition for new workers.