Call it an extra Christmas present for the Pittsburg city commission.
At the last city commission meeting of the year, Pittsburg received a positive economic development update from Blake Benson, Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce president and economic development director.
The first bit of good news came in the local labor market, with unemployment continuing to fall. The latest numbers from October 2013 show the unemployment rate at 5.1 percent, lower than September 2013's 5.7 percent and October 2012's 5.4 percent. It's also a far cry from October 2010's 8.4 percent unemployment.
What's more is that those numbers show an increase in employment despite a growing civilian labor force. The labor force is up nearly 800 since October 2010, and is now above 21,000.
Benson said that unemployment rate can be a tricky measurement of labor force, so the better indicator is the raw employment numbers. And those show stark improvements in just three years.
Since October 2010, the employment numbers show an increase of nearly 1,300 jobs to October 2013. Further, the numbers are up nearly 450 jobs since October 2012 and 150 in the month since September 2013 to 19,934 jobs.
Benson also discussed the sales tax collections, a good indicator of not only how many people are in a community, but whether the community is attracting people to area businesses.
While these numbers can fluctuate month to month, Benson's figures showed a year-over-year increase of 0.66 percent for the three months of September, October and November 2013. Year to date, Pittsburg has brought in a little more than 3 percent more than last year.
Benson also shared the results of a survey of existing businesses. Of the 62 that responded, 70 percent said their business was doing well or very well, with another 15 percent at fair/OK.
The businesses were also asked which issues keep them up at night, and the results were partly for local issues and partly for national trends.
In particular, the "overwhelming" top concern was workforce, with employers saying they can't find employees they need with the right skill set. The next issues were uncertainty with the Affordable Care Act, rising costs of doing business and concern for the growth of the local economy.
The survey even further drilled down on the local issues affecting businesses. While 20 percent of the responses were "none," the top issues listed were the growth and socioeconomic status of Southeast Kansas, the local workforce and the tax rate.
This survey also asked what can be done by Pittsburg to help these businesses. Workforce development came in at the top of the list for both skilled and professional employees. Continued business development/growth and a continued focus on growing businesses were also listed in the responses.
Benson mentioned some long-term projects on the horizon, including the pursuit of a Technical Education Center in the county that could help address some of those concerns over workforce development.
In addition, the hotel/retail feasibility study will be completed by Dec. 31, with a report being delivered to the city commissioners at their next meeting on January 14.
As for downtown, Benson said the city was looking into possibilities with a "pop-up" store concept, in which a business gets a storefront, often for 3-4 months, to see if their business concept can or will work.
In the anecdotal evidence category, Benson noted the ribbon cuttings at Krimson Kultuur and Fuzzy's Taco Shop in the last month, as well as at Mike Carpino Auto Group/Hertz Rent a Car.
Benson's address was not without bad news, as he noted the planned closures of Mission Clay and of CherryBerry. The Goodwill store that has been built but not opened in north Pittsburg will also entertain offers for others to move into that building.
"I don't think they're going to move into it anytime soon," Benson said.