Area data suggest job growth in 2012

Small firms in metro area hired more, paid less in 2011

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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Portland-Vancouver area small business owners hired more people in 2011 than the year before, but paid them less, according to data released Tuesday, and hiring should continue to climb in 2012, with half of all small business owners planning to add jobs in the year ahead.

Portland metro area small businesses did more for job creation and wages than their peers in the rest of the country, SurePayroll’s Small Business Scorecard report found. In the Portland-Vancouver area, small business hiring barely budged last year, climbing just 0.1 percent, but nationwide small businesses actually reported a 3.2 percent drop in hiring. Nationwide, small business owners reported that employee paychecks were down 0.8 percent last year, essentially tied with the 0.7 percent paycheck decline in the Portland-Vancouver area.

Manpower Inc. also recently said that the employment outlook in the Portland-Vancouver metro area is improving as more employers look to add jobs — though its estimates of businesses of all sizes suggest that only 16 percent of employers plan to increase staff levels in the first three months of the new year.

Chris Crongeyer, branch manager for Manpower in Vancouver, warned that any metro area forecast should be taken with a grain of salt in Clark County.

“It’s very typical of Southwest Washington to be the last to bounce back when it comes to any increase in staffing needs,” he said.

Scott Bailey, regional economist for the state’s Employment Security Department, has said that job growth must pick up substantially to put a dent in Clark County’s unemployment rate, approximately 11 percent in November.

But Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll, argues that surveys of small business owners can still be useful. Small businesses are responsible for about 70 percent of all new jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“While our monthly economic report won’t provide insight into medium or large companies or the government sector, it’s a good barometer for small businesses,” Alter wrote on his blog, hosted by Inc. magazine. “It shows what’s happening on Main Street.”