Local officials dispute Forbes’ ranking of city

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
— Janesville is one of the worst places in the country to look for a job, Forbes magazine said in a recent article.

It’s no picnic for the unemployed, but Forbes’ ranking doesn’t tell the whole story, said two local officials who work to turn the jobs frown upside down.

Forbes ranked 397 cities based on growth in numbers of jobs going back to 1999, with more weight given to more recent years. Rockford, Ill., came in at 383. Racine was 378, Fond du Lac 373.

Wisconsin’s best showing was Oshkosh-Neenah at 145. Janesville ranked seventh from the bottom at 391.

“That does not explain Janesville, and it certainly doesn’t depict where Janesville is right now,’” said Vic Grassman, city of Janesville economic development coordinator.

The job situation here is “really tough,” acknowledged Bob Borremans of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. But Borremans sees signs of recovery.

Borremans points to an uptick in job postings in recent months, noted by the Job Centers of Wisconsin.

These jobs do not pay as well as some of the jobs that have disappeared, however.

“So they’re going to have to realize that they’re going to have to look at something below what the area has seen in the past and recognize other factors of a good job,” such as quality of life, fringe benefits and the opportunity to stay close to home, Borremans said.

For those willing to move, Forbes says some of the best places to find jobs include North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina.

Borremans said workers could also look closer to home, including expansions at Bucyrus International in Milwaukee and Oshkosh Truck.

Borremans also said he’s heard informally from companies that are filling positions not by advertising but by asking employees whether they know someone.

“We’re hearing that things are beginning to pick up,” Borremans said. “We’re still a long ways, though, from finding enough jobs for 9,000 people.”

That’s an approximate number of workers filing for unemployment benefits in Rock County, Borremans said.

Forbes does hint at what local officials see: “The traditional manufacturing heartland has been suffering for a long time, and in this recession, industrial jobs have declined rapidly and only now seem to be slowly expanding.”

Grassman said if Forbes could have added 2010 statistics to the mix, the picture would have been different.

Grassman thinks things are looking up.

Workers have built new skill sets at Blackhawk Technical College, and there’s been an increase in companies considering Janesville as a place to do business, Grassman said.

“You can’t argue with them,” Grassman said of Forbes, “but you know they try to draw a black-and-white picture, and essentially this is a community that’s going through transition, and I think if you look three, four, five years from now, you’re going to see a significantly different picture in terms of employment.”

“I’m very optimistic,” Grassman said.

Grassman noted that it’s his job to be optimistic, but the number of employers asking about Janesville is higher than it’s been for several years.

Janesville has much to offer a company, including lots of workers skilled in advanced manufacturing techniques and a superior work ethic, Grassman said.

When Grainger recently announced an expansion of the former Lab Safety Supply in Janesville, officials told Grassman that part of their calculation was that they could get better productivity here than in other places.

The Rock County 5.0 initiative by local businesses and government is another sign of life that a simple statistic can’t show, Grassman said.

“We need to get the good word out on a consistent basis because, as you know, the naysayers get a lot more attention,” Grassman said.

Last updated: 1:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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