Business doubles — or more — at Wichita temp agencies

Temp agencies in Wichita are back in a big, big way.

This year has seen an extraordinary rebound for local suppliers of contract workers to plants, warehouses and offices.

Some temp agencies said their business has doubled — or more — from a year ago as Wichita businesses use temps to hedge their bets on the future.

Ron King, co-owner of LSI Staffing, said business fell by two-thirds between fall 2008 and summer 2009. Since then, it has recovered nearly all the way to late 2008 levels.

"Employers probably cut back pretty darn hard in '09 in what was a fear-racked economy," King said. "When the world didn't come to an end, and you had the economy holding its own or even growing slowly, they've needed people."

Being one of the few places doing steady hiring in a downturn presents problems, said Scott Aaron, branch manager of Oasis Staffing.

He recently just advertised a job and said he expects to have more than 1,000 resumes — many from out-of-state — when he starts sorting through applications on Monday.

"If I left my door unlocked, my lobby would be full every day," Aaron said.

Local employment agencies said companies want temp workers in manufacturing, construction, medical, clerical and administrative work. That signals, said agency managers, a broad-based, if weak, improvement in the Wichita labor market from last year.

Shirley Martin-Smith, owner of Adecco, said the surge in temp hiring is typical early in a recovery. Businesses are uncertain about the future and use temps until they feel confident enough to hire permanently.

"They would prefer to hire full time," she said, "but they're not sure if this is permanent or just a spike."

C.J. Owens, manager of Express Employment Professionals, expects some clients to step up hiring permanent employees after the holidays. But, he's also hearing that many businesses plan to stay with more temp labor for a longer period of time.

The big reason, said many agency managers, is uncertainty over the cost of employee taxes and benefits such as health insurance. Contract labor makes labor costs easier to figure, they said.

That fits with longer-term trends, said Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.

The use of contract workers will rise and fall with the business cycle, he said, but businesses are also moving toward more use of contract workers in the future as a way to more quickly adjust their labor costs to revenues.

"That is a big change in the work force," Hill said. "It's a component that will only get bigger."