Job numbers are increasing in Finney County

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Traffic flows through downtown Garden City.  Jobs are increasing in Garden City/Finney County and more workers are needed, as the May unemployment rate was at 2.2 percent.

Finney County unemployment rate at 2.2%

Jobs have increased in Finney County over the past five years and more workers are needed.

Shannon Dick, Director of Analytics at Finney County Economic Development Corporation, found that on average 126.6 new jobs are coming to the county year over year based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2015 to 2020. 

The biggest job growth was in the manufacturing, transportation and healthcare fields, Dick said. 

From 2015 to 2020 manufacturing saw an increase of 410 jobs, an average of 82 per year. Transportation saw a growth of 152 jobs, an average of 30.4 per year and healthcare saw an increase of 350 jobs, an average of 70 per year. 

Some fields saw a decrease, they include the mining and oil industry, retail trade and accommodation and food service.

Mining and oil saw a decline of of 61 jobs from 2015 to 2020, an average  of 12.2 per year; retail trade saw a decline of 244 jobs, an average of 48.8 per year; and accommodation and food services saw a decline of 18 jobs, an average of 3.6 per year.

Dick's excited to see the growth as it shows that the Garden City/Finney County area is doing a good job of recruiting new businesses and expanding the businesses that are already here. 

"It's good, it shows that we're going in the right direction," he said. "Our median household income has steadily gained, so we're overall up jobs," he said. "The places that we're losing some of those jobs we're more than making up for it in high growth, high demand, high paying jobs, I think we're moving as a community in the right direction."

Some of the industries where jobs have been decreasing aren't surprising, Dick said. In the oil and natural gas industry the decline is just the nature of the industry, but he expects retail to make a rebound. 

"We need to note that just because they're having a decline in employment in retail doesn't mean retail's down," he said. "Last month actually was the biggest sales tax collection ever for Garden City."

There isn't really a complete correlation between the number of employees and how retail is performing, Dick said. 

"There's restaurants that are getting by with less staff, they're performing just as well as always or even better, but they're just employing less staff," he said. "Different things about that."  

While the number of jobs is increase, there are challenges to filling and retaining those positions.

Nicole Hahn, FCEDC Vice President and director of Community Development, said location is the biggest challenge, a lot of people don't know where Garden City is and then when they look at where it is on a map they say it's in the middle of nowhere. 

"Honestly 80% of the battle is our location, but once we get people here and we show them around town and how great our community is and things that we have available here, more often times than not they become sold on the community," she said. "I think Garden City does an excellent job of selling itself. It is kind of that little oasis that no one expects us to have the amenities that we have, but we are able to have those amenities a lot because of our remote location."

Hahn said they've tried to turn the negatives about the community. For example, where people would see the area as remote they try to market it as a great place to raise a family because it has the amenities of a bigger city but not the traffic or crime rates of one. 

"There's a lot of pluses I think that we get with choosing to live here," she said. "It's just you have the diversity, you have so much more that you're exposed to in this community that you don't expect to be exposed to. Those are big benefits." 

Additionally the jobs that the area is seeing an increase in are not $10 an hour jobs, Hahn said, they're jobs that can change a family, that can give a pathway to a better life.

"It's not like we're out there just offering up a bunch of retail, which we have, but I think a majority of our jobs, and we've made conscious effort in that, is to really go after those skilled labor force jobs that truly build a community and you can build a career on those," she said.

Another challenge to filling and retaining jobs is the shortage in housing and childcare, Dick said.

Strides are being made to build more houses as the in the Rural Housing Incentive District now has over 1,000 units approved, Dick said. Even though they're not built yet, they're in the pipeline of getting built. 

"That's good news in the housing and they're all from apartments up to really big houses and small houses and everything in between," he said.

Childcare is also making strides, Dick said.

"The Nazarene Church is opening up their pretty soon, so that's good. Then we've had more recent other groups that are looking at moving in and opening up," he said. 

Hahn said the Finney County area along with the increased number of jobs is seeing a low unemployment rate, which as of May, is 2.2%.

"That's good, except we still have quite a few jobs that are open and it's really coming down to it's not that people are sitting on unemployment benefits, it is a we have a lack of people right now," she said. "We need more bodies."

Hahn said one way the FCEDC is working on getting more people for area jobs is through Finney County Workforce Connection, which has four groups, three focus on different areas of employment: Recruitment and Retention, Youth Development and Special Populations. 

The fourth group, the Resource Group, focuses on marketing. 

Recruitment and Retention deals with recruiting and retaining employees in the area, Youth Development works with the youth in the area high schools and community college, Special Populations deals with those that have a specific barrier to employment be that a handicap or if they have been incarcerated in the past, and the Resource Group works with marketing the area. 

Dick said a healthy unemployment is around 4%, it means that everybody who should be employed or easily employed is employed, but at the same time there are more jobs than people available. 

"As we grow more jobs we don't just have just people waiting for new jobs, we have to grow those people from bringing them in from outside the community or reaching through the high school programs where we have empirical and Tyson, working with those high school students and getting them trained up to be ready to go into those jobs," he said. "We just have to I think get creative on finding ways to meet our employment needs. So far we've been pretty good at it, we just need to keep it up I think."