A new survey signals a rosier Lawrence job market for the first quarter of 2004 than compared with a year ago.
Manpower Inc.'s quarterly Employment Outlook Survey, which was released Monday, expects Lawrence area companies will hire employees at a faster pace during the first quarter of 2004 than 2003.
The survey predicts 17 percent of the companies that were polled plan to add employees during the January-to-March period, while 7 percent intend to reduce their work force. A year ago, the survey found 10 percent of the companies planned to add workers and 7 percent planned to cut back.
"I don't think we're back to normal yet. People are still proceeding with caution, but there is more optimism out there," said Nancy Slabaugh, manager of Manpower's Lawrence office. "I think we're taking some baby steps to where we need to be."
Compared with the current quarter, hiring will be slightly slower because retailers will no longer need extra help for the holiday shopping season. The survey's fourth-quarter results found 23 percent of companies expected to increase job totals while none anticipated a decrease.
Luke Middleton, a research economist with Kansas University's Policy Research Institute, said he thought the confidence level of area businesses slowly was improving.
"There have been some numbers at the national level that have been positive," Middleton said.
He said area economists would know more by late January when initial unemployment claims for the fourth quarter were released. Middleton said Douglas County's initial claims, which represent people who filed for unemployment for the first time in a year, reached a new 12-month low during the third quarter of 2003.
Middleton said if the fourth quarter filings were lower than last year's fourth quarter totals, it could be solid evidence that a true job recovery in the area had begun.
"It would be a welcome sign," Middleton said.
Both Slabaugh and Middleton, though, cautioned that the job market still remained tight. Slabaugh said there were more job seekers than jobs.
"I definitely would say that it is still an employer's market," Slabaugh said. "I would say that for all of 2004 it more than likely will be an employer's market."
Slabaugh said recent announcements by several manufacturers led her to believe that job seekers would have the best luck in the industrial and production sector of the job market. She said people seeking information technology jobs likely would have the most difficult time finding work.
Cheryl White, a manager at the Lawrence Workforce Center, said office/clerical positions were becoming more available along with customer service positions.
"I get the sense that it is getting better," White said. "But it is still very competitive if you are a job seeker."
Lawrence employers' expectations were about the same as the state's average, according to the survey. Statewide, 19 percent of employers expect to add workers while 10 percent expect to eliminate jobs.
Hutchinson employers were the most optimistic in the state with 27 percent expecting an increase and 3 percent expecting a decrease. Topeka had the most negative outlook, with 13 percent expecting to add workers and 17 percent expecting to cut positions.
Nationally, 20 percent of employers said they planned to boost employment levels while 13 percent anticipated cutting positions.
The survey polls 16,000 companies in 470 cities across the country.