By Rachel Snyder
Help wanted signs are popping up all over Chickasha and Grady County recently.
In fact, between February and March, the unemployment rate in Grady County has dropped from 4.9 percent to 4.6 percent, according to a recent Oklahoma Employment Security Commission report.
This makes Grady County more competitive with counties with a much larger labor force, like Oklahoma County, which had a 5.2 percent unemployment rate in March, and Canadian County, which had a 4.4 percent unemployment rate, according to the report.
Chickasha Area Economic Development Council Executive Director Christy Elkins said part of this can be attributed to growth in the oil and gas industry in the area because of its inclusion in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province.
Elkins said 2,500 jobs in the oil and gas industry have come to the Chickasha region recently.
First National Bank Business Development Officer Paul Lewis also said the reduced unemployment rate is partly because of the oil and gas industry.
"In the last month, it seems like someone flipped the switch and oil field companies are deciding Chickasha is the place to be," Lewis said.
He said seven or eight oil field service companies have come to town in the last two months.
While the oil and gas industry has brought growth to Chickasha, it's not among the top three employers in Chickasha.
The largest employers in Chickasha are Grady Memorial Hospital with 400 employees, Braum's Dairy with 400 employees and Chickasha Public Schools with 385 employees, according to the Chickasha Economic Development Council.
Lewis said Chickasha also has a lot of jobs in manufacturing.
While these companies will continue to employ a lot of people, the Chickasha Area Economic Development Council is working to bring more high-quality, high-paying jobs here because there is an underemployment problem in Grady County compared to the rest of Oklahoma, Elkins said.
"Basically, if you want a job, you can get one. It may not be the job you want, but you can get one," she said.
She said she also expects a lot of retail growth in Chickasha over the next year.
Lewis said the problem in Chickasha is not that there aren't jobs. It's that there aren't enough people here to fill them.
"Once we get housing in place, I think Chickasha proper will see a lot of growth," he said.
Chickasha Mayor Hank Ross said the city is working to fix this problem by adding the first new housing development in Chickasha since the '70s.
Ross said the new housing and cleaning up the city will help Chickasha compete with other cities in Central Oklahoma, such as Yukon, Mustang and El Reno.
"There's a lack of appropriate housing for single families. We want people to live here and take their children to school here," Elkins said.
The last month was prosperous for many other counties in Oklahoma as well, with the unemployment rate dropping in 69 of Oklahoma's 77 counties, according to the report.