Jobless recovery no more

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

The recent announcement that Volvo Trucks plans to recall 700 employees at its New River Valley production plant is obviously good news, but it also may be the sign of a real tipping point in the economic recovery.

Seven hundred jobs is no small number in Pulaski County.  In fact, it’s not a small number anywhere.  These are not stimulus-fund jobs or relocated jobs. No incentives, other than good old supply and demand, appear to be involved. In making the announcement, Volvo, which had about 1,500 workers in Pulaski before the recall, said that its truck sales through February were up 47 percent from the same period last year. 

These are blue-collar, heavy-industry jobs — the kind that are supposed to have all moved offshore, the kind that one rarely hears about in our dot-com world.

Trucks carry freight, moving hard goods to warehouses and consumers. Trucks pick up imports and deliver exports to the Ports of Virginia, among other destinations.

News like the Volvo recall offers reason for optimism at a time the national conversation about our economy is dominated by words like “stability” and “confidence.” Economic conditions are far from perfect. Recent headlines have heightened concerns about high oil prices, the Japanese nuclear plant meltdown, euro-debt crises in the PIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and political turmoil in the Mideast and North Africa.  But, was there ever a time when conditions were perfect?

The history of business development is dominated by individuals who took risks under less-than-perfect conditions and pursued visions of what they thought was possible, not just probable.  Getting out from under a bad economy requires a certain amount of courage.  Waiting until there is no risk means waiting until there is no reward.

Courage is inspirational, but facts are also helpful.  Let’s take a look at what’s happening with job announcements in Virginia:

Preliminary figures from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) show 4,136 new jobs were announced in the commonwealth during the first quarter of this year.  This is a 77percent increase from the first three months of last year and the highest first quarter total since 2008, when 4,719 new jobs were announced. 

In fact, the number of job announcements dropped in the first quarter of 2009 and 2010, by 16.5 percent and 40.7 percent, respectively.

One of the reasons the VEDP numbers are preliminary is that, at press time, not all counties had reported. One of those counties is Fairfax, the commonwealth’s most populous county and always a juggernaut of economic growth.  Nor do the numbers include the March 30 Volvo announcement cited above. As the numbers are revised, they likely will challenge the 2008 total as the best first-quarter results in five years.

The first few weeks of the second quarter yielded more good news.  ICF International announced it will open an operations center in Henry County, creating 539 jobs; Phoenix Packaging plans to expand in Pulaski County, adding 100 jobs; and General Electric expects to bring 200 new high-tech jobs to Henrico County with the formation of an informational technology center.

Virginia’s improving economy is reflected in the commonwealth’s monthly tax collections.  For five consecutive months through March, state revenues exceeded budget projections and have shown year-over-year growth greater than 9 percent.  In 12 of the previous 13 months state revenue also has exceeded previous year amounts.

Virginia remains a formidable choice for companies seeking a fair regulatory environment, an educated work force and a strong business leadership culture.  Despite legitimate concerns about global stability and consumer confidence, the commonwealth is experiencing record levels of job growth.  In Virginia, the jobless recovery is over, and the real recovery has begun.

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