- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 19, 2014

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - The health of the retail industry in the United States depends heavily on fourth-quarter sales. More specifically, sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas can make or break a fiscal year for merchants.

In October, the National Retail Federation forecast that approximately 19 percent of the retail industry’s anticipated $3.2 trillion sales for 2014 would come during the holidays.

“Retailers could see a welcome boost in holiday shopping, giving some companies the shot in the arm they need after a volatile first half of the year and an uneventful summer,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “While expectations for sales growth are upbeat, it goes without saying there still remains some uneasiness and anxiety among consumers when it comes to their purchase decisions. The lagging economic recovery, though improving, is still top of mind for many Americans.”

Those numbers, and consumer uneasiness, could get an unexpected boost from an unlikely friend: gasoline.

National gas price averages have remained under $3 per gallon for nearly three straight weeks, according to AAA, and at an average of $2.89 per gallon, are at their lowest price in nearly four years.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development spokesman Joe Frank told the Kokomo Tribune (https://bit.ly/1vpzkdM ) that lower gas prices are driving retail sales state-wide. Gasoline is an inelastic good, meaning motorists are going to consume the same amount of fuel regardless of the price.

“However, when gas prices are lower, they have a lot more money to spend on retail goods and services,” Frank said. “So, what we’re finding, because gas prices have been low for a few months now, people are really starting to use their dollars on those retail goods and services. It’s really starting to reflect on seasonal hiring numbers, too. . There’s a lot more demand for holiday employees this season than there was last year.”

The workforce development research and analysis team says 2014 seasonal hiring is surpassing expectations because of the robust retail forecast, at least for the short-term. Those lower gas prices also mean retailers have more liquid assets to expend on workforce additions and higher manufacturing volume, since they’re not spending nearly as much at the pump to ship goods.

In the 2013 holiday season, the Kokomo area saw a significant increase in holiday hiring, Frank said. Through September 2014, trends show that this year is expected to surpass those numbers. Frank said the workforce development numbers indicate as many as 150 separate businesses are hiring in the Kokomo area.

“That bodes extremely well, because in September of 2013 that number was in the low 100s,” Frank said. “So, you’re talking about 50 percent more over the summer than last summer, so that could very well bode well for the holiday season. In October, November and December of 2013, those numbers were in the 130 area in terms of different employers. . So, it looks like there could be some significant growth.”

A quick scan of job search engine Indiana Career Connect’s website, Indianacareerconnect.com, reveals an abundance of firms seeking to hire local season help, including Meijer, Jackson Hewitt, FedEx, H&R Block, Carson’s, H.H. Gregg, Target, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, JoAnn Stores, Old Navy, UPS and Sears.

Locally, Meijer seems to be leading the hiring charge, having already added close to 30 employees to gear up for the holiday rush. Corporately, Meijer announced in September it planned to add 10,000 employees, including 1,800 jobs in Indiana alone.

“So far for us this season in this store, we’ve had a really good year - actually a record year for our sales,” Kokomo Meijer store director Jamie Thrower said. “We’ve probably seen close to a five percent growth this year. We do expect that to continue throughout the holiday season. Our company has positioned us to do well in market place as far as upcoming promotions, including sales on turkeys and things like that. So, we do expect the business to stay.”

The seasonal positions include stocking, cashiering and floor servicing. In a typical year, Thrower said most of those employees are given the opportunity to remain on staff after the holidays in a part time - and in some cases full-time - manner.

“We just always have the business for it,” Thrower said. “So, we’ll probably keep 90 percent of them. For one this year, our growth has enabled that. In years past, it’s been attributed to some turnover. But this year our turnover has dropped and we’ve been able to keep more of our employees long-term. We just have a need for those jobs this year because of our growth.”


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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