Richmond leads country in one slice of job growth

health-care-costsEmployment in the Richmond health-care and education sectors is up 10 percent from last year. And that is the highest percentage increase in those categories in the U.S., according to an analysis of mid-year Bureau of Labor of Statistics data by Buffalo biz journal Business First.

Richmond added about 8,000 jobs in health care and education since last year.

Bill Mezger, chief economist for the Virginia Employment Commission, said Richmond is well positioned for growth in both industries.

“Richmond is fortunate to have institutions in both of those fields located here,” Mezger said. “Most have been here for a long time and have continued to grow with national demand for health care and education.”

According to VEC’s numbers, the region added 5,200 health and education jobs between April 2008 and April 2009, a 6.4 percent increase.

The region’s No. 1 employer is the VCU Health System with 7,399 employees as of Jan. 1, up more than 300. HCA, which operates more than 30 clinics and hospitals in the area, is the third largest employer in the area. Bon Secours Richmond Health System is the sixth largest employer. Those numbers are according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s list of top employers.

The demand is evident on Craigslist, which has had more than 350 classifieds posted in the past 30 days under the health care category. More than 150 were listed under education. (Compare that with about 25 postings for manufacturing jobs.)

Mezger said Richmond has long been a health-care center for the Upper South and is home to the largest state university as well as several other private and public schools.

He said both industries continued to grow during previous recessions as well. The two are grouped together because of the amount of training in those fields, as well as the public sector component.

Demand for education labor is up because more out of work people are going back to school, Mezger said. He added that while many state schools could face budget pressure from falling tax revenue, most have raised tuition in anticipation of possible cuts.

In health care, on the other hand, demand for jobs is being driven in part by technological advances.

“It used to be you had something wrong you went to the doctor and got a prescription,” Mezger said. “Now quite often you go to the doctor for an ailment and you are being sent to a couple specialists before you are through and maybe a therapist.”

Also, many health-care costs are covered by Medicaid and private insurance, which isn’t affected by declines in consumer spending.

In the Business First analysis, Richmond is sixth in terms of number of health-care and education jobs created in the last year. New York tops the list with 34,200, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth with 21,400.

Richmond is preceded by Atlanta with 8,900 jobs, and followed by Indianapolis with 7,500 jobs.

Barbara Brown, head of workforce development for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, said the demand for health-care professionals will continue to grow.

“We are coming into a time when there are a lot of retirements happening,” she said.

The VEC projects a 34 percent increase in health-care jobs between 2006 and 2016. Estimated employment in 2006 was 58,037 jobs.

Brown said the average age for nurses is 48 and that the average doctor is 55 years old. She many of them have only about 10 to 15 years left before they retire, which is creating demand now for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to fill their shoes when the time comes.

Also in high demand are pharmacists and physical therapists, said Brown.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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