With unemployment numbers closing in on near-historic levels, prospective employees had the upper-hand Wednesday during the Ardmore Development Authority's Southern Oklahoma Hiring Conference at the Ardmore Convention Center.
With more than 55 employers and more than 300 potential applicants lining up and  — some nearly an hour before the doors opened — looking for work, the event kicked off with a steady stream of people that lasted well into the afternoon.

“We are getting positive feedback from the employers here, many of the applicants are people who are already employed looking to better themselves by looking for better jobs and better positions,” Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, said. “When we talk about low unemployment, that doesn’t take into consideration that portion of our population that is underemployed, so this has provided real opportunities for them to come in and assess what their opportunities are.”
Bates said the challenging aspect of current economic conditions is matching the skill sets of potential employees to the need of the employers.
“If you were to look strictly at the unemployment rate, you wouldn’t think there would be that many people showing up here,” Bates said. “You do have some first-time job seekers, but you have a lot of people who are employed currently looking for other options.”
Some of Ardmore and southern Oklahoma’s largest employers were on site allowing individuals to meet with recruiters and fill out applications, some were entry level positions, while others fell a little higher in the pecking order.

“On average we have about 5 to 20 job openings in the plant, and those openings range between the salary and wage positions,” Steven Pierce, recruiter for Michelin, said.
The Chamber’s previous hiring conference was held in 2016.

“The biggest change is that we are seeing fewer applicants in the overall pool,” Pierce said. “We are dealing with an environment today that’s running a 3.2 to 3.6 unemployment rate, with some places south that are advertising a 1.6 to 1.8 unemployment rate. Those unemployment rates are unheard of for the time I’ve been doing recruiting. By default you have less people in the pool looking for a job. That’s the difference I see compared to say the 70s where we would advertise a job and see people lined up outside the plant looking for a job.”
Pierce said other factors were also playing into the tightening of the current labor market.
“There is a big push in the United States to bolster manufacturing,” Pierce said. “We saw a trend in the 70s and 80s of a lot of stuff moving to China because they were low-cost producers, now companies are looking at the US,  when you factor in the import/export fees and the transportation costs, maybe it’s a good time to get back into the US. I’m seeing more and more companies reinvest in the US.”