Oklahoma City already has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and businesses plan to keep on hiring locally, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams said Tuesday.
Williams made the remarks at the Oklahoma City Council's weekly meeting, where he updates council members on the business climate in the city every few months. Williams was citing figures compiled as part of the chamber's latest survey of local employers.
“Fifty-nine percent of these companies that we interviewed expect to expand their employment in the next 12 months,” Williams said. “That's up from 44 percent the previous year.”
Williams called the jump “significant” and said it comes on the heels of strong hiring last year.
The chamber surveys 300 businesses categorized as primary employers every year to make its report. Primary employers are businesses that export goods or services outside of the local economy, importing money from outside the metro and making the kind of impact that leads to local job growth in other sectors.
The surveyed companies added 4,538 new jobs with an average annual salary of $63,000 over the past year, according to the chamber's report. About 4,000 more jobs of similar quality are expected in the next year, which could lead to up to 15,000 new jobs from secondary employers, based on the most optimistic estimates.
“These are truly quality jobs,” Williams said, adding growth was in manufacturing and service industries such as health and information technology.
There still are a few discouraging trends and possibilities on the local and national level, Williams said.
The quality of primary education in Oklahoma City and other parts of the state has suffered to the degree that employers think some local students “really don't have the skills to enter the workforce,” Williams said.
The employers also expressed a desire for more workers' compensation reform in Oklahoma and continued commitment to investment in infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
“While many acknowledge and applaud what has already taken place, there's a recognition that there's been years of underfunding infrastructure in Oklahoma,” Williams said. “There's a huge task still facing us, and they're concerned about the current progress (and) whether or not there's the commitment out there to continue the infrastructure improvements statewide.”
Uncertainty in the national economy and the ever-closer edge of the fiscal cliff, threatened by federal government inaction, has given pause to some of the largest employers.
Earlier this year, optimistic statements and hints from civic leaders predicted a big job boost from major development and relocation news from big corporations, but Williams implied Tuesday that concerns about the economy have delayed that, at least for now.
“We're still seeing a hesitancy and a reluctance to grow, to make large capital investments and (add) new employees and new equipment, particularly among the larger companies,” Williams said.