HARD AT WORK: Pike County workforce strong, growing

Published 1:38 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

How do you define the workforce of Pike County? Is it the people of Pike County that work here every day? Is it the other residents that commute to Montgomery, Dothan, Enterprise every day but come back home to Pike to live and play? Is it the people that commute to Pike County from all across the region?

It can be tough to nail down, said Marsha Gaylard, president of the Pike County Economic Development Center.

“A lot of times people think our labor force just comes from Pike County, but it doesn’t. We know that because we talk to local industries and we know where they hire people from. Each of those counties basically touch Pike County. Montgomery is just a 40-minute drive. Some of these other counties it’s a lot less drive time.”

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Gaylard said bringing people in from around the region brings extra economy to our area, even if they don’t live in the county.

“They buy gas here, they eat here – depending on where they’re from, they shop here,” Gaylard said. “I’ve had people tell me they have to stop at Publix or Piggly Wiggly for groceries while they’re here if they’re from the rural areas.”

A report from the Alabama Department of Labor shows 4,000 people still unemployed within a 45-minute drive time of Pike County and another 4,000 unemployed in Montgomery that could make the trip to Pike County to work.

“I sometimes hear from existing industries that we’ve about maxed out our labor force; these numbers prove that we have not,” Gaylard said. “And when new jobs become available, everybody is always looking to improve their job situation, so it opens up some of those lower-paying jobs. I’ve seen a lot of companies have to evaluate wage rates when there’s a lot of growth in the community to ensure they’re competitive. I don’t know of anywhere where there is nobody left to be employed.”

Gaylard said an important part of keeping the workforce strong and healthy as it is today is for the unemployed not to be the unemployable.

“It’s so important for existing labor force to be highly educated and highly skilled,” Gaylard said. “People that are unemployed now that don’t have the skills these companies are looking for need to go out and try to acquire those through the junior college system or AIDT training programs that help people improve work skills.”

Another way that the workforce is being developed is through the teaching of “soft skills” such as customer service, punctuality and work ethic in local schools.

“We focused through our workforce development program to develop career academies in the public school systems,” Gaylard said. “It came out of conversations with our employers. That’s why I tell everybody economic development and education go hand in hand educators developing our future labor force an industry and even a retail business. That’s why I tell everybody economic development and education go hand in hand. Educators are developing our future labor force in industry and retail business.”

There are numerous resources for people outside of school as well to learn what it takes to hold down a job.

“The Alabama Career Center is a resource right here to help people get a job if they want a job,” Gaylard said. “Very few people take advantage of those free classes that they have; that’s something that we need to highly encourage. We want everyone to have a job that wants a job. For people that need a job and want a job, the resources are here to help them get a job.”