Amid a lot of worry about the local economy, some job market observers are seeing some significant silver linings and reasons for optimism.

“I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. We’re not seeing that,” said Heather Babb, regional manager for Employment Plus, a Terre Haute staffing agency. “We are expecting to be busier this year than we have ever been,” she said.

Leading the good news is Sony DADC, which is benefiting from Sony’s victory in the high-definition DVD format war. Sony DADC has added 85 employees “since consumers formally adopted the Blu-ray format for high definition in January,” writes Sony DADC spokeswoman Shelley Klingerman.

The company’s Terre Haute-based, full-time employee count was expected to reach a peak of 1,300 by July 1, she notes. Sony also will be “aggressively seeking seasonal operators for employment during” the peak season that begins around August, Klingerman adds.

In March, Sony DADC reported having 1,183 employees at the Terre Haute facility, which is one of three plants worldwide making Blu-ray discs.

Meanwhile the Terre Haute housing market is still a little slow, but that makes this a good time to buy a home, said Jon Mutchner, owner of Jon Mutchner Homes, a residential home building company.

Business is down but that doesn’t mean business has come to a halt, Mutchner said. “We’re down, but … we’re still getting some movement. It’s still positive,” he said.

“Everybody is down a little bit, but for the most part, if you keep your nose to the grindstone and really concentrate and be smart about your business and where your business is coming from, you’ll be fine,” he said.

Businesses in Clay County could be adding as many as 300 new jobs in coming months, said Jim Coffenberry with the West Central Indiana Economic Development District. A company called Headwaters LLC is looking to convert discarded bits of coal from strip pits into fuel for power plants. And Brickcraft, a brick maker in Clay County, and Brampton Brick in Sullivan County are expecting more business, as well, he said.

Even Great Dane, which laid off more than 150 Wabash Valley workers in the past several months, may be hiring again soon, Coffenberry said.

“I haven’t seen any real hard evidence of people not investing,” he said, adding that much of the new investment is coming from overseas.

Vigo County has seen a net increase in manufacturing jobs over the past three years, said Claudia Tanoos, vice president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. Among its large manufacturing companies, Vigo County lost about 1,000 jobs from 2005 to 2007, Tanoos said; however, manufacturers added 1,328 new jobs during the same time.

Those figures do not count the loss of 140 additional jobs at Pfizer this year, Tanoos noted. They also do not count dozens of new jobs being created at Marian Manufacturing in West Terre Haute, 15 to 20 new jobs at ChemGen, or the hundreds of new jobs expected at Alorica, a call center opening at Plaza North. Those figures also do not include hiring since January at Sony DADC.

The THEDC tracks mostly big manufacturing businesses, which accounted for 3 percent of Vigo County’s 2,666 firms in 2005. More than 68 percent of Vigo County companies have fewer than 10 employees.

Recent job cuts at Pfizer, Great Dane and Bemis and some other big employers gave the end of 2007 a bleak appearance, but companies still are hiring and opportunities for work are out there, local job market observers say.

Vigo County’s unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent in April from 6.3 percent in 2006. That’s still higher than the state unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.

Workers coming to Employment Plus with a high school diploma or a GED can expect to be placed fairly quickly, Babb said. “In most cases, you’re going to be starting in a week or two if not immediately,” she said.

The average pay for workers at Employment Plus is between $9 and $10 per hour, Babb said, adding that some jobs can lead to full-time opportunities.

A worker might have to take a few dollars less for a while, “but it could lead to something really fantastic down the road,” Babb said. “The opportunities are there.”

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the average worker in Vigo County receives $32,154 per year compared with $36,411 for Indiana as a whole. Manufacturing, government, health care and social-assistance industries provided the most employment in Vigo County in 2006. These industries provided jobs for more than 47 percent of the county’s work force in 2006. Manufacturers provided the most jobs at 8,405 in 2006, 16.3 percent of all employment in the county.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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