By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Jobs are being added in Michiana, but not at a rate that is outpacing demand.
A visible example of this gap occurred Wednesday when more than 500 people had applied for 80 job openings at Supreme Corp. just two hours after the four-hour event began. Supreme customizes truck bodies for fleet operators, retailers and contractors.
Many of the people applying were unemployed, like Nick Garren, who made the drive from South Bend with the hope of landing a job.
“This job market is not like it was when my dad was with the union,” Garren said. “You could go down to the (union) hall and get a career.”
Supreme is adding the jobs to handle a surge in orders from fleets, which include truck-rental companies, said Matt Long, chief financial officer at Supreme. The company has plants across the country and other locations may be adding jobs as well, according to Long. In Goshen the company employs 690 people. Another 21 people work at the company’s Ligonier facility.
“The unstable economy (in the fourth quarter of 2012) drove many fleet purchasers to hold off until now,” Long said. “They are putting them (orders) in second half of the year, so we have some pretty good fleet orders coming in the second half.”
Supreme advertised the manufacturing jobs as paying $13 to $14.50 an hour.
Garren, a divorced father with three children to support, has thought about if his family can live on that wage.
“I think I can deal with it,” he said. He said his most recent job was in Pennsylvania and that paid $15.50 per hour. But the job lasted only three months and he was laid off.
Inside and outside the new, very large lunchroom at Supreme, hundreds of people waited to hand their resume to a human resources person and get a chance to make their pitch for work.
Hardy Jones was looking over the lists of job openings inside. He too is from South Bend.
Jones has a job but would like to change, even if he has to commute.
“I thought the compensation was worth it for me to come and look at it. I thought it paid well,” Jones said of the opportunity to work at Supreme in Goshen.
Michael Garman of Warsaw agreed. He had just returned from Florida, where he worked for a while.
“There was not much work in Florida unless you wanted to flip burgers,” Garman said.
He explained that he used to build recreational vehicles and assembling the custom boxes on the back of the delivery trucks at Supreme is similar work
“That’s good money,” Garman said of the collection of jobs that include welding and fiberglass work. “I have been in the trade my whole life.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage in Elkhart County in the fourth quarter was $782, which was up 8.9 percent over the prior year’s fourth quarter.
Long said Supreme officials are aware that as the local recreational vehicle industry plants increase production during their good year, Supreme is competing for workers. He said that is one reason the company held the job fair.
WorkOne, the state’s employment agency, promoted and hosted the jobs fair. Chuck Knebl of WorkOne was on hand to help.
“The economy really is much stronger now and the businesses really need more people now,” Knebl said.
And more people are looking for work. According to statistics from the state’s Work Force Development agency, Elkhart County’s labor force grew from May to June. In May the number of people who were in the labor force and employed or looking for work was 92,385. In June that number swelled to 94,501. Because of more people were looking for work, the county’s jobless rate moved from 8.2 percent in May to 8.6 percent in June.
A match needed
One of the problems employers and the unemployed have in filling jobs, is matching skills to openings, according to Knebl.
“There are a variety of jobs not being filled right now because of the skill requirements are more advanced than the larger work force has right now,” Knebl said. “So there are opportunities for people to take real focused assessments of where their skills are.”
He said for a company like Supreme, which has a nationwide work force of 1,700, competition is extensive.
“For Supreme, it’s a global economy,” Knebl said. They are trying to sell their products globally. So that is something workers need to be aware of. They are competing in that economy.”