Two of the businesses, Price Less IGA, a small grocery employing 35 people, and Gamecock Car Wash, which is employing 10, opened earlier this month. Jack’s restaurant, which recently constructed a new building, opens Wednesday and will employ about 50 people, a release from the company states.
“Any increase in jobs is good,” said Tara Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Labor. “You are taking that many more people off the unemployment rolls and putting them into the employment community.”
The workforce in Calhoun County in April included 52,830 people, 49,277 of whom were employed, according to statistics from the Labor Department. Employment figures for May are expected to be released today, but the Jacksonville jobs created in June will not affect those numbers, Hutchinson said.
Though Price Less IGA is adding new jobs, it’s unclear how many positions the job market will net from the store because Price Less replaced another grocery store of comparable size. That store, Save-A-Lot, closed in the spring.
Attempts to reach Houchens Industries, the parent company of both stores, to find out how many people were employed by Save-A-Lot were unsuccessful.
Still, the new jobs are good for Jacksonville because they provide employment opportunities for the unskilled labor force, a labor market that was hit particularly hard during the recession, said Jacksonville State University economics professor Chris Westley.
“This is a very important labor market because it is where entry-level workers learn skills and experience that will allow them to become more productive and earn higher wages in the future,” Westley said.
That could be good news for teens and young adults looking for jobs in Jacksonville. Westley said some of the youngest members of the city’s workforce are driving as far as Oxford to find part-time work and the new jobs give them employment options close to home.
“This is the typical job that a 16-year-old high school student could get started off on,” Westley said. “A lot of them don’t have a lot of options.”
While Westley said the new jobs provide good opportunities for teens, Hutchinson said they could also add to the number of people who are underemployed — if those jobs are filled by people who are overqualified. Underemployed workers are those who cannot find work to match their level of education or skill set, and those who want full-time employment but are working on a part-time basis.
It’s too soon to know whether the new stores are a sign of long-term growth. University of Alabama economics professor James Cover said the new businesses could simply redirect economic traffic.
“I would say it’s a good sign for the local economy ... if they turn out to be successful,” Cover said.
In addition to creating jobs, the stores have improved the appearance of portions of Alabama 21 in Jacksonville. Price Less IGA’s strip-mall location received an upgrade that is noticeable from the road and Jack’s built a restaurant with a stucco-and-stone facade.
Previously, Jacksonville was about the only locality in Calhoun County that lacked a Jack’s. The restaurant chain has locations in Alexandria, Anniston, Ohatchee, Oxford and Piedmont.
“Until now, people would have to go to [Alexandria] or Piedmont to get Jack’s. We’re excited to be here to share our friendly atmosphere and quality food to the people of Jacksonville,” said Jack’s area manager Todd Hart in the news release.
Cash Savers, which was named The Food Outlet until recently, is within walking distance of the new Jack’s and was also updated this spring. The owner of that store, Mike Sanders, said improvements at surrounding stores, in addition to his own store's remodeling schedule, prompted him to make improvements at Cash Savers.
“When you got a neighbor like Jack’s, you want to put on the best face you can because you get double exposure,” Sanders said. “They made that spot look mighty, mighty nice.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.