WAYNE — Right now, Wayne seems to be on an economic roll.
Around town, there’s new construction, new housing additions, ringing cash registers and most importantly for long-term economic growth — new jobs.
Workers are needed to weld, swing a hammer to work on preconstructed houses, run machines to make bedding products or help customers over the phone.
The need has been so great, workers are being sought from beyond the region, but still there’s a shortage of employees, reports local community leaders.
“I think everybody in town is hiring right now,” said Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlain.
Chamberlain said some of the jobs include general production workers, welders and people with construction backgrounds who can make furniture.
Jobs pay a range of salaries, but many of them start at about $12 or $12.50 per hour, he said.
Irene Fletcher, assistant executive director for the Wayne Area Economic Development Chamber, said the town’s major employers include Great Dane, Heritage Homes, Heritage Industries, Pacific Coast Feather Company and Wayne State College.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of companies looking for one or two employees, she said.
Fletcher said one of the things that sometimes can be a challenge when hiring employees from outside the region is they don’t realize how much lower the cost of living is in the Midwest, especially in small towns.
Many of these jobs will provide for a quality family life, she said.
Another challenge in trying to attract employees from areas where there is high unemployment is the workers often live in a depressed area where they can’t sell their home or they have family obligations, she said.
Another challenge can be that Nebraska is perceived as “an ag state with nothing but corn fields,” she said.
Fletcher said while agriculture is the primary industry in the state, it’s important to address people’s perceptions that there’s nothing to do.
Wayne is fortunate because of all the cultural offerings it provides, including numerous offerings from Wayne State College such as the planetarium, plays and musicals, she said.
There’s also community theater offerings at the newly renovated Majestic Theatre downtown and walking and hiking trails, she said.
Fletcher said in the nation’s push to get a more educated society, it seems like some of the emphasis on vocational skills has been lost.
“People can graduate from a four-year college with some pretty hefty student loans,” Fletcher said. “They can graduate from a community college with little to no school loan and be making more money than that four-year degree person.”
Chamberlain said sometimes parents don’t encourage their children to do vocational work.
“We don’t sit around the dinner table and say, ‘You should be a logger or an electrician,’ ” he said.
Nancy Braden, Wayne finance director, said Wayne has been fortunate to attract labor from some of the neighboring communities in Northeast Nebraska.
“They live in the small communities around Wayne and it is the family obligation that they want their kids to go to school there, or they have their home there (in the neighboring community),” Braden said.
When people from small towns commute to Wayne, it still helps the region and fills the jobs, Braden said.