Peter Gioia – Fairfield County affected

A highly educated population has long been one of the characteristics of Connecticut that has drawn businesses to the state. But lately, companies in some industries have had trouble finding Nutmeg State residents whose skills match their needs, according to survey results from the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

Companies responding to the CBIA’s first-quarter 2006 economic survey indicated they have job openings but are having a hard time finding applicants with the experience or skills needed to fill positions.

The survey did not break down the results by industry, but Peter Gioia, CBIA’s chief economist, said the survey did draw somewhat on manufacturing sources.

The results were geographically dispersed, but the problem appears to affect Fairfield County more heavily than other areas of the state.

“The critical thing we might be seeing is that the most acute problem is in Fairfield County,” Gioia said.

Businesses there are trying to expand, but are having trouble finding qualified workers from the area. Many of them are drawing employees from New York, New Jersey and other parts of Connecticut, like New London and Glastonbury, Gioia said.

According to the survey, 71 percent of the respondents said their firms had attempted to hire new or replacement workers, but 53 percent were not able to fill all their open positions. Seventy-two percent of those said that applicants did not have the experience or skills necessary for the job, while 38 percent had a shortage of applicants and 20 percent said the applicants were deficient in other ways or just not ready to work.

“This survey confirms findings in other local and national polls that businesses are having difficulties finding qualified workers to fill job openings,” Gioia said in a prepared statement. “The lack of qualified job candidates, which is threatening the ability of companies to replace skilled workers and create more jobs today, will only be exacerbated as the baby boomers begin to retire.”

Positive Stories

In addition to the aging population, high housing prices, transportation problems and overall negative sentiment about businesses in Connecticut are encouraging people to move.

“I think the other impact is migration,” he said.

But the negative impressions some people have formed about the state’s businesses are not entirely accurate, Gioia said. Many companies – like Mortgage Lenders Network USA of Wallingford, which is expanding and creating more than 1,000 new jobs in the state – are expanding successfully.

“They’re a very positive story, but there aren’t enough of those,” Gioia said.

Aside from having trouble finding qualified workers, businesses in the state seem to be prospering, according to the rest of the survey.

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on,” Gioia said.

Production, sales and productivity are at their highest levels in more than a year, according to the survey. Gioia characterized the results as nearly the best since 2000.

However, the number of respondents who believe the state and national economies are worsening grew.

Fifty-eight percent of business executives who responded to the survey said production and sales improved in the first quarter, up from 52 percent a year ago. Fifty-three percent noted increased productivity in the first quarter, compared with 45 percent a year ago.

But the respondents also expressed their beliefs that the economy is faltering. Twenty-five percent said the national economy has worsened, compared with 20 percent last quarter and 15 percent a year ago. Their opinion on the state’s economy was worse, as well, with 32 percent reporting poor economic conditions this quarter compared with 24 percent last quarter and 28 percent a year ago.

According to Gioia, the state’s businesses are seeing improvement within their own firms, but they do not attribute the success to the outside economy.

“Outside market forces are placing a strain on businesses and forcing firms to rely more heavily on the productivity of employees and the ability to attract qualified new candidates,” Gioia said in a prepared statement. “But with less of a qualified labor pool available than in past years, businesses and the state must examine what can be done to produce a greater supply of job-ready candidates.”

The survey was mailed or e-mailed in April 2006 to 2,000 business executives around the state. The survey has a response rate of 17 percent and a margin of error of plus or minus 5.4 percent.