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Arizona had its largest one-week increase in first-time unemployment insurance claims on record last week, according to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity.

Mirroring the nationwide jump in claims, Arizona saw 29,348 new claims the week ending March 21 compared to 3,844 the week before.

Doug Walls, a labor-market research administrator for the department, said there had been no forecast estimate of what the number would be, but it was “up significantly.”

The previous high in first-time claims was 11,178 in 2009 during the recession.

Walls gave an entirely remote presentation of February employment numbers to a handful of journalists Thursday. He said Arizona gained jobs in all seven metro areas during the month, but cautioned numbers are incomplete because of the coronavirus.

In the available numbers for February, the state’s labor market increased 3.2% compared to last February. That equaled 111,000 people. Compared to January, there was an increase of 24,300 jobs.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.5%. Nationally in February, the unemployment rate was 3.5%. Both numbers are expected to change dramatically when March numbers come in.

Education and health services had the biggest gain in jobs year-over-year with 22,000 added. The trade, transportation and utilities sector was next with 10,600 jobs. Overall, there was a net gain of 79,000 in Arizona since last February.

Month-over-month, there was a statewide gain of 24,300 jobs, which was close to the 10-year average of 25,100.

Nationally, there was an increase in unemployment claims of 3.3 million, even higher than many economic experts anticipated. The coronavirus has caused the temporary closure of many businesses across the country and worker layoffs, with some even closing permanently.

“This large increase in unemployment claims was not unexpected, and results from the recognition by Americans across the country that we have had to temporarily halt certain activities in order to defeat the coronavirus,” Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said. “The hard impact of this on American workers was anticipated in the bill passed by the Senate last night, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars in unprecedented funding for traditional unemployment insurance and pandemic unemployment assistance.”

Vinny Fiordilino of Brooklyn Boys Italian Restaurant. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera


As the final fixed increase to minimum wage hits, local businesses are adjusting.

Jan. 1, the state of Arizona increased minimum wage from $11 to $12, after several increases from previous years. In 2021 and beyond, Arizona’s minimum wage will change based on the cost of living in the state.

Local business owners shared the struggles of running a home-grown business under rising minimum wage, costing the employers more money from limited resources.

Headquarters Restaurant and Bar owner Alma Farrell discussed tough choices the eatery has to make. Since the minimum-wage increases started in 2016, she has had to raise prices.

Alma Farrell, owner of Headquarters. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“You have to keep your customers happy because they don’t want you to raise the prices, but how can you not raise them? How do you keep your vendors happy?” Farrell said. “That’s the biggest issue, is trying to find the balance to raise the wages for your employees, keep the vendors that you have, and keeping the customers happy.”

Arizona voters passed Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, in November 2016, when minimum wage was $8.05. The initiative implemented two measures into law: minimum wage increases until 2020 and paid sick-time requirements.

Brooklyn Boys has been a locally owned restaurant in Maricopa since 2007. The owner of the New York-style Italian restaurant, Vincent “Vinny” Fiordilino adjusts the budget with each minimum-wage increase.

“Looking at a different point of view as an owner, especially when business is kind of slow, it hurts. It hurts a lot because you’re always on a tight budget,” Fiordilino said. “It’s a rough business, no matter what kind of store you have, but you adapt and you go with the flow. You try to make the best out of it.”

The Industrial Commission of Arizona implements and enforces Prop 206’s requirements.

The current state minimum wage far exceeds the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which Arizona has been above since 2010, when the state last matched the nation’s hourly wage. According to the U.S Department of Labor, in 2011, Arizona raised its minimum wage 10 cents above the federal wage and has been increasing it ever since.


Pat Kieny of Native Grill and Wings

Maricopa’s Native Grill and Wings is part of a chain of locations across Arizona, Texas and Illinois. The raises since 2016 have caused layoffs and cut hours while the restaurant figured out ways to reduce supply costs. Native Grill also had to recover from a months’ long closure in 2019 after a fire.

“Some places end up closing and stuff like that when minimum wage continues go up. It’s too early to tell how it’s going to affect us,” owner Pat Kieny said of the latest increase. “Hopefully it’s not too damaging. So, all we can do is wait and see and keep moving forward.”

 Another demographic affected by the minimum wage increase is the employees. Maricopa High School graduate Harrison Edmondson, a full-time Arizona State University student studying supply-chain management, said his major gave him a lot more insight into how minimum wage can affect people within the same community very differently.

Harrison Edmondson

“Small business-wise, they rely so much on community support and community engagement, that when they have their operating costs increase, they’re going to have to lay people off or cut hours, benefits,” said Edmondson, who works as a community assistant for ASU and previously worked at Fry’s. “But, unfortunately, if they can’t afford to pay these workers and decrease the profit margin a little bit to cut the labor cost, I just feel like they may need to reevaluate the business model.”

Edmondson said he has struggled to keep up with expenses despite the increases in pay.

“Budgeting was always something that I tried to do, but considering the amount of money I made, I still wasn’t able to cover my basic expenses. I had to get a credit card to help cover the expenses, so I have a little bit of credit card debt right now,” Edmondson said. “Personally, whatever medical expenses come up for me, I am basically not able to pay those at all.”

According to the U.S Department of Education, the average cost of in-state college tuition in Arizona was $9,337 from the 2018–19 academic year. This does not include housing or other costs. This is $1,114 less than the previous year (10.7% decrease). This also is representative of one academic year; students will typically pay four to six years of university tuition.

Arizona now has the fifth highest minimum wage in the country, tying with Maine and Colorado, which share the $12 hourly wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Only Washington, California and Massachusetts are higher.

Antonio Gonzales

Maricopan Antonio Gonzales is a full-time ASU student who also has to make ends meet working entry-level jobs while attending school. He is currently employed at a Chipotle.

“I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t think it’s going to solve all of the problems that everybody thinks it will,” Gonzales said. “Minimum wage jobs aren’t for people that are trying to support a family and pay off the house and all that stuff. It’s an entry-level job, and then people use that and build into a career where they can afford that stuff.”

Local government is also affected by minimum-wage jumps, as many minimum-wage employees provide various services for the City of Maricopa. Spokesman Adam Wolfe said the City has 71 employees impacted.

The 2018 median household income for Maricopa sits at $68,908, 16% higher than the state’s $59,246, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Over the past decade, the average annual cost-of-living adjustment has been about 1.5%. The cost of living in Maricopa has risen 2.2% during the past year, with the biggest increases in transportation and food, though housing is edging up, too.

 Minimum wage will continue to increase to accommodate any rising cost of living, which means some years may see no increase, large increases or small increases depending on what is deemed necessary by the Industrial Commission.

“Hopefully, it’ll get easier from this point on,” Fiordilino said. “I’m all for this for the employees, because I used to be an employee once before being an owner, and I understand what kind of hardship they go through, making a living. However, being an owner has its perks and disadvantages. Owning a business is not easy.”

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Make sure to bring your resumes and dress for success, because the Maricopa Job Fair is here again. The event will take place on July 17 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Veterans can enter beginning at 10 a.m.

The workforce agency Arizona@Work Pinal County plans to bring at least 50 employers to this summer’s job fair and expects hundreds of job seekers to be in attendance.

“The first Maricopa Job Fair was at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in 2016,” said Jason Robert of Arizona@Work Pinal County. “It came about because most job fairs are in metro areas, like Phoenix or Tucson. There was a definite need for job fairs here in Pinal County.”

Although partners with Arizona@Work, Harrah’s was not able to host the most recent job fair due to construction on the property. Now that the expansion is complete, the event will be held in the casino’s new ballroom.

If you do not feel ready for the Job Fair, Arizona@Work can help with that.

“We have a workshop prep for job fairs, so when you come to a job fair, you feel prepared, you’re dressed for success, and you know what to ask the employer when you’re going around each table,” Robert said.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

A committee is mapping out MUSD school calendars through graduation 2024.

The Maricopa Unified School District has officially begun their recruitment efforts for the upcoming school year.

The District will be recruiting for both classified and certified staff members to join their team.  The District is asking for support from the community and encouraging all internal and external stakeholders to share the news with family, friends, and professional acquaintances.  As part of this effort, the District will be hosting a Job Fair on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the district’s Administrative Office Building, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway in Maricopa from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Administrators and supervisors will be present to discuss opportunities and also to conduct interviews for the projected openings.  Interested candidates should access the District’s online application at https://musd20.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx and complete the appropriate application prior to the Job Fair.

For more information about career opportunities with the Maricopa Unified School District please call 520-568-5100 or visit the District’s website at www.maricopausd.org.

Construction has been a growing major sector in Arizona's employment. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Arizona lost 7,200 nonfarm jobs from April to May, but the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.9 percent to 4.7 percent.

“Building construction recorded its largest over-the-year gain in nearly 12 years.” — Adam Turk

The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity released the jobs report Thursday.

Compared to May 2017, the state added 70,700 total jobs. Economist Adam Turk said manufacturing, education and construction were drivers in job creation in May.

“Building construction recorded its largest over-the-year gain in nearly 12 years,” Turk said.

There were 5,100 jobs added in the subsector of building construction, a 17.8 percent increase.

In particular, the construction subsector of specialty trades saw job growth up 9.1 percent compared to last May. In the United States, that number is 4.2 percent, reflecting the increased construction activity in Arizona.

Manufacturing has seen a recent upsurge in hiring. Overall, the sector grew 5.5 percent since last year and 1.3 percent since April. That is an increase of 8,900 jobs, the largest gain in 20 years.

Turk said manufacturing of computer and electric parts – “a sector where we, for the past several years, have seen job losses month over month” – has turned around since the final quarter of 2017 to post job growth. Its year-over-year increase was 9.7 percent.

The education and health services sector grew by 14,100 jobs over the year, the biggest increase in the state. Turk said that was primarily driven by additional education hires, possibly due to the state’s new education budget.

In Pinal County, the biggest employers were in the service industries, though that showed a month-to-month loss of 50 jobs. A number of sectors were down slightly in May compared to April, including manufacturing, business and professional services, hospitality trades and trade, transportation and utilities.

Construction jobs increased in Pinal County, as did government jobs and education.

Overall, the county’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.6 percent in April to 4.1 percent in May.

Construction employment in Arizona was back on the map in November.

Doug Walls, research administrator for the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, said the increase of 1,000 jobs was “an atypical change for November.” Many of those new jobs, he said, were in specialty trades and heavy or civil engineering.

Over the year, construction employment has improved 6.2 percent, a gain of 8,300 jobs and the largest growth rate among all job sectors. In Pinal County, construction employment reached a new high point for 2017 in November.

Statewide, building permits for new single-family homes are back to pre-recession levels. Maricopa’s home-building permits for November totaled 98, the highest November total since the depths of the recession. In November 2014, the total was as low as six.

The construction employment numbers in Arizona also benefited from highway construction projects.

Overall, the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.5 percent in October to 4.3 percent in November. Pinal County’s unemployment went the opposite direction, increasing from 4.3 to 4.4 percent. Nationwide, the unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent.

Pinal’s workforce increased by 1,100 in November while the number of employed increased by just 993 people.

Service-providing industries continue to be the biggest employers in the state, employing 2.5 million. The state’s total labor force is 3.2 million.

Arizona netted 29,500 new jobs during the month. Most of the state’s job growth was in the Valley of the Sun. Tucson and Flagstaff, on the other hand, posted concerning numbers. Tucson had employment shrinking in seven of 10 sectors over the year. More immediately, over the month of November, Flagstaff saw all its sectors lose employment.

Walls said the state office is “not able to see the details” of the cause.

Employment in the sector of trade, transportation and utilities rose 2.9 percent during the month, the biggest percentage gain during the 30 days. The area with the next largest growth rate was professional and business services at 4.7 percent.

The information sector was flat during the month and saw a 12-month loss of 5.6 percent. Walls said the state was seeing job losses in data processing all year.

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Feliz Leyba (left) and Cassandra Brown.

Feliz Leyba has been promoted to manager of Convention Services for Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino. In her new position, Leyba will be responsible for building the department from the ground up. This is a new position at Harrah’s Ak-Chin as a result of the casino’s multi-million-dollar expansion, which includes the new convention center with over 18,000 square feet of rentable space, an additional 230 guest rooms, a spa and fitness center, additional restaurants and a multi-level parking structure.

Cassandra Brown joined the City of Maricopa as the Grants and Accounting coordinator Brown comes from the San Juan County Government in Farmington, New Mexico, where she served as a grants accountant. She also has experience working with tribal governments and speaks fluent Navajo. Brown will be responsible for researching grant opportunities and working with various departments through the grant application, monitoring and reporting process.

This item appears in the October issue of InMaricopa. If you have new hires, promotions or employee awards, let us know at News@InMaricopa.com.

By Ethan McSweeney

Maricopa job seekers may want to brush up their résumés.

Who: Approximately 50 employers
What: Job fair
When: July 6, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, 15406 N. Maricopa Road
How much: Free

Arizona@Work, the state’s workforce development initiative, will host its annual job fair at Harrah’s Ak-Chin on July 6. Nearly 50 employers will be on hand recruiting, including Maricopa Unified School District. They are looking to fill positions such as social workers, medical assistants, correctional officers, bartenders, youth advocates, claims specialists, sales representatives, law enforcement, heavy construction and food service.

“It’s a good variety of jobs,” said Linda Martinez, business service liaison for Arizona@Work in Pinal County.

Martinez said job seekers who plan to attend this year’s job fair should be “dressed for success,” so no shorts or flip-flops. Arizona@Work also offers help with résumés at its Business and Career Center in Casa Grande.

Last year’s job fair for Maricopa brought out 52 employers and about 300 job seekers. Martinez said at least 30 were hired as a result of the event.

This story appeared in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Arizona Workforce Connection, along with many partners, will host the Pinal County Community Job Fair at the Promenade Mall in Casa Grande on Feb. 17.

The event will feature more than 50 employers from Pinal County and five from Maricopa. Arizona Workforce Connection will offer a Job Fair Preparation Workshop on Feb. 3 from 9 to 11 a.m. in its offices at 1015 E. Florence Blvd. in Casa Grande to help job seekers prepare for the event.

The job fair is set to last from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Suite 130 at the Promenade Mall at 1005 N. Promenade Parkway in Casa Grande. Anyone looking for work is encouraged to attend.

Available jobs include:

•    911 dispatcher
•    Administrative
•    Bank teller
•    Bartenders
•    Behavioral health paraprofessionals
•    Border patrol agents
•    Bus drivers
•    Caregivers
•    Case managers
•    Claims representatives
•    Collectors
•    Construction and/or roofing
•    Cooks
•    Correctional officers
•    Direct support professionals
•    Firefighter
•    Food service supervisor
•    General labor or skilled trade
•    Head lifeguard
•    Housekeeping
•    Instructors
•    Insulation installers
•    Inventory specialist
•    Leak survey technician
•    Lifeguard
•    Maintenance tech
•    Material handler
•    Operations engineering
•    Packers
•    Paraprofessional
•    Parks equipment mechanic
•    Patient registration
•    Peer support
•    Production
•    Receptionist
•    Records clerk (police department)
•    Registered nurse and licensed practical nurse
•    Satellite TV technician installer
•    Servers
•    Service representatives
•    Specialty instructor
•    Substance abuse counselor
•    Teachers
•    Telephone interviewer
•    Van drivers

Shamrock Farms in Stanfield is seeking seasonal employees to be tour guides and cashiers. Submitted photo

By Adam Wolfe

Arizona Workforce Connection will host hiring events for Shamrock Farms and Tractor Supply Distribution in September.

Shamrock Farms is looking for candidates with strong communication skills that work well with people to be part of their team of Farm Tour Guides and Farm Tour Cashiers. The positions are seasonal and expected to last from October 2015 to May 2016. The company will be conducting interviews for the open positions during AWC’s hiring event on Sept. 16.

“The positions are temporary and the hours are based on scheduled tours throughout the week,” AWC Business Service Liaison Linda Martinez said. “The candidates would definitely need to be flexible with their schedule.”

The event will take place on Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arizona Workforce Connection offices at 1015 E. Florence Blvd. in Casa Grande. Walk-ins are welcome, but participants are able to set up an interview time before the day of the event because the interviews will be set on a first come, first served basis.

“The interviews will be set in 15-minute intervals,” Martinez said. “Job seekers will need to contact AWC to find out how to get registered and get scheduled for an interview. If someone walks through our doors the day of the hiring event without a scheduled appointment, employers will usually see the candidates.”

Ideal candidates will have a high school diploma or GED, strong verbal and written communication skills, work well with people and provide good customer service. In either job, workers may be required to move products around, so they are asked to be able to lift up to 50 pounds as well.

One week later, Tractor Supply Distribution will host a two-day event in hopes of finding material handlers to work at its location in Casa Grande. The event will once again be at the AWC offices in Casa Grande, and last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Sept. 22 and 23.

According to Martinez, Tractor Supply Distribution is looking to hire at least 60 people, but the number could be even higher if they meet with enough well qualified candidates. Just like the hiring event on the 16th, participants are able to register for the event ahead of time by contacting the AWC offices and speaking with an employment services specialist. Walk-ins will be welcome both days as well.

Ideal candidates will have a high school diploma or GED, be able to read and speak English, and perform basic math. Due to the nature of the job, candidates should also be able to lift between 50 and 100 pounds, stand, bend or squat for prolonged periods of time, and be comfortable with heights. Other job requirements will include the ability to use a bar code scanner, two-way radio, computer, lift truck and pallet jack, dock door leveler and a stretch wrap machine. A background check and drug test is required as well. For more information on the hiring events, contact Arizona Workforce Connection by calling (602) 542-2460 or visit www.arizonaworkforceconnection.com.