Taking economic temperature

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Glenn Millican

The unemployment rate in Virginia, and Lunenburg County, sits below 5 percent. An area business owner and county representatives discuss the current economic climate of the area and both the successes and challenges that they see in county employment today.

According to Labor Market Information for Lunenburg County from the Virginia Employment Commission, updated July 28, the unemployment rate in 2017 in Lunenburg County was 4.4 percent. This compares with 3.8 percent in Virginia as a whole. The median income from the county in 2016 dollars, according to findings from the U.S. Census, is $39,911. The percentage of persons in poverty according to the census, is 19.8 percent.

Virginia Marble is listed as the largest employer in Lunenburg County, followed by Lunenburg County Public Schools and the Lunenburg Correctional Center.

The Towns of Victoria and Kenbridge are taking first steps toward participating in the Community Business Launch (CBL) program from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which helps communities develop a plan for its economic future and then supports potential businesses that would help fulfill that plan through holding a business competition. The towns are currently distributing an online survey that asks community members whether they shop in Lunenburg County, their overall impressions of the community and the types of businesses residents would like to see open in the area. The survey is available online and can be accessed at https://www.surveymonkey. com/r/32S3MXW.

Glenn Millican, county planner, said the county’s economic challenge, in a general sense, lies in developing a workforce that gives employees and employers the skills needed to build an economically viable area.

“Employers are having difficult times finding employees, and I don’t think that’s very prevalent in the market,” Millican said. “There are just not enough skilled workers, or even semiskilled workers to fill the job positions. That makes it difficult for the county to have economic growth, and it makes it difficult for the employers to expand their business. We’re in a time of full employment, and a good business environment, and this should be the time for people to expand if they could find employees, and that’s the issue.”

Millican said the economic situation in the county makes up a complex number of factors, and that the challenges, and solutions, aren’t things that can be recognized or solved overnight.

Alan Bagley, plant production manager with Virginia Marble, said the company has between 10-15 openings in its production department as well as in its warehouse, and in stone and granite fabrication. He said the company is looking for employees.

He said the positions do not require prior experience and training is done on-site. He said Virginia Marble has been in Kenbridge since 1969.

Bagley estimates the manufacturing company has between 350-375 employees.

“What we like to do … before we hire is we bring them in, and take them out in the plant and let them see the work environment, what they will be doing,” Bagley said.

He said the jobs consist of mostly manual labor, including working with production of stone and granite.

Bagley said the largest challenge he sees at the location is not necessarily finding qualified employees, but having employees show up.

“Absenteeism is our biggest problem,” Bagley said. “It’s nothing for us to have a 5, 10 percent absenteeism rate a day.” He said one department at the time of the interview had a 15 percent absentee rate.

He said the company accepts applications at the front office. Bagley said referred employees who make 90 days in good standing can receive a $500 bonus.