Florence Major-Lamb has a bachelor’s degree in social work and 26 years of experience in the field, but when she lost her job at a Fitchburg nursing home and began hunting for a new position, she learned just how tough it might be to find another job nearby.
“I applied for a position in Fitchburg,” Ms. Major-Lamb said. “They had 175 applications for one position.”
Four years after the nation’s Great Recession ended, unemployment remains one of the vexing challenges facing the Massachusetts economy. The state’s jobless rate, which got as low as 6.4 percent during April, climbed back to 7 percent during June, with an estimated 242,000 workers out of jobs.
Yet some parts of the state are doing worse than others. The Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner metropolitan area, a 10-community region, posted a June jobless rate of 9.8 percent, including seasonal employment swings, with an estimated 6,986 workers without jobs. It represented the second-highest unemployment rate among eight state metro areas, surpassed only by an 11.1 percent jobless rate in the New Bedford area.
Just six years ago, the unemployment rate hovered below 5 percent in the Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner area.
A key factor in the region’s employment picture has been the loss of a number of large manufacturers over the last 15 years, companies that took paper, furniture, aerospace and plastics production to cheaper locales or shut down entirely.
Among the closings, James River Corp. closed its paper operations in Fitchburg in 1990 laying off a workforce of about 140. General Electric shuttered a turbine production center in Fitchburg in 1998 that cost the region about 600 jobs, and at least four furniture factories closed in Gardner from 1989-1990 for a loss of about 1,000 jobs. Union Products Inc., the famed Leominster developer of plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments, closed in 2006 with a loss of about 30 jobs.
Many large employers remain in the area, including a number of paper, metals, plastics and food manufacturers. The state counts HealthAlliance Hospital of Leominster as the largest employer in the area.
Yet an economy of smaller businesses has also emerged in the region, many of them technologically advanced but with lower headcounts, according to Joshua B. Spero, faculty director of the Regional Economic Development Institute at Fitchburg State University.
“The big factor is why can’t a larger number of jobs be created in these cities?” Mr. Spero said. “I guess that really comes down to how many small businesses can maintain themselves or new ones come in.”
The Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner metro area is a rolling area of rural towns and old cities that includes Ashburnham, Ashby, Lunenburg, Phillipston, Templeton, Westminster and Winchendon. The communities are home to about 3,000 business establishments, according to Fitchburg State data.
To encourage employers to create jobs in their communities, government and education officials have rolled out welcome mats, cleared away permit logjams and offered to train workers.
Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella, supporter of a proposed slots casino development that would reportedly create hundreds of jobs in the city,Scotch No base material double sided tape Products with Dispenser you need for home office or business. said Leominster has tried to keep its property tax increases below the maximum allowed levels to aid businesses. But he also wishes government could deploy more financial incentives to reward employers that create jobs.
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Mount Wachusett Community College of Gardner has worked with north Central Massachusetts companies to create job-training programs tailored to growing industries in the region that require entry-level workers to possess specialized skills.
The college recently launched a six-week training session at Devens after learning that Jabil Circuit Inc., which recently acquired plastics manufacturer Nypro Inc., planned to hire about 100 people in Clinton, said Jacqueline E. Belrose, vice president of lifelong learning and workforce development at the college.
“I personally am pretty optimistic about the future of the area,” Ms. Belrose said.
On a warm afternoon last week, six job hunters filed into a wood-paneled conference room at the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce to share frustrations and tips about their searches. The Greater Gardner Job Seekers Networking Group, backed by the chamber and the North Central Career Centers, meets every Wednesday to hear speakers and get advice.
They scanned a list of employers expected at a job fair Aug. 15 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Leominster. Chamber President and Chief Executive James Bellina urged the job seekers to hunt for ways to make contact with people who hire, a challenge because many companies only take applications online. Mr. Bellina also invited the job seekers to a chamber outing where he said they could network.
“As word gets out about this networking group, people are contacting us about jobs,stocks a huge selection of aluminum foil tape.” he said.
Steve Wendell,My way of applying kapton tape to Glass. owner of Gardner radio station WGAW 1340, offered the job-seekers a chance to tape free one-minute commercials about themselves and sit for on-air interviews aimed at publicizing their skills.
“We want to promote them,” Mr. Wendell said later. “It’s tough being without a job.”
Social worker Ms. Major-Lamb, who lives in Winchendon, said she had been hunting for work as far away as Clinton and Groton. Maureen C. DeFuria of Gardner, who commuted to Boston for 26 years to work for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts before taking jobs related to community service closer to home, sounded grim when asked about finding a new job close to home.
“For 30 years I’ve been trying to find a job here, and there’s none,” Ms. DeFuria said.
The group talked about looking south to the Worcester job market, north to New Hampshire and west to other Massachusetts communities.
Mr. Bellina acknowledged that much has changed in the region’s business makeup,Online supplies a large range of double sided tape. but he also sounded a note of optimism about the workers who remain in the area.
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