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Job and Weave? Surveys Duel Over Market Forecast

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Either the sky is falling or everything's just fantastic in Richmond, despite the economic malaise and gloomy job market forecasts. Two sets of employment surveys released last month to gauge the job market in Richmond predict very different futures for Richmond-area employees.

A survey released June 10 by Manpower Inc., the national temp agency and consulting firm, found 47 percent of Richmond-area employers would be cutting jobs between July and September. Richmond, in fact, ranked near the top of the cities Manpower surveyed regarding projected job cuts in the third quarter.

But not so fast. A second survey released a day later by Business First Greater Richmond -- a joint venture between the Greater Richmond Partnership and the Greater Richmond Chamber, the city's go-to business cheerleaders -- estimates only 4 percent of Richmond-area businesses plan to cut jobs over the next 12 months. While the time frame is broad -- forecasting 12 months out is difficult -- the Business First survey paints a very different economic picture.

So, whom to believe?

Fortune 500 companies make up 98 percent of Manpower's customer base. The types of companies Manpower serves may be skewing the results, according to Sara Dunnigan, vice president of existing business services for Business First
"Some companies might fit a certain profile," she says. "A lot of companies that use temp agencies hire Manpower to staff up during periods of expansions. Those tend to be the first jobs that are let go and reflect the changing economy."

Business First conducts face-to-face interviews with local CEOs; 282 interviews conducted since July 1, 2007, were included in the recent survey. Dunnigan says the firms they interview range in size from one employee to 1,600 employees, making their research more diverse.
But maybe not as relevant. Manpower rotates the businesses it calls each quarter and interviews firms outside its clientele, according to Paul Holley, a Manpower spokesperson. It asks each company the same question: How do you anticipate total employment to change in the next three months as compared to the last three months?

"Over time, our findings link up pretty closely with what actually happens," he says. "We've been doing this for 45 years, so we are pretty confident it's accurate."

Business First has been interviewing companies for less than two years. After 45 years of surveying, Manpower's margin of error is down to 0.8 percent.

William F. Mezger, chief economist for the Virginia Employment Commission, wouldn't comment on the discrepancies, other than to say, "Everybody does things to promote their own agenda."

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