With construction up and unemployment down in Prince William County, day-laborer companies have found the perfect recipe.

Labor Ready Inc., a public company based in Tacoma, Wash., provides temporary manual laborers--including landscapers, welders and construction workers--to companies that need workers immediately.

The Manassas location, one of 14 stores throughout the Washington area, has found a special niche in the Prince William market.

"We have more than enough business [here]," said James Young, Labor Ready district manager. That is part of the reason Labor Ready has put an office in Manassas.

Across the street from Labor Ready is a very similar company called Labor Finders International Inc. They "are good clean competition," Young said.

Labor Finders, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., operates stores in 22 states and has more than 130 branches.

"It's supply and demand," said John Schneller, a Labor Ready analyst and vice president at Little Rock-based Stephens Inc., an investment banking and brokerage firm. "It just makes sense to put stores near where there is a lot of building going on, cleanup work, near manufacturing centers, dock work. Wherever that type of work is done, they will put a store."

With unemployment low, at 1.8 percent in the county, and the rate of construction high, day jobs are definitely available in the area, Young said. And he is trying to find more workers. Workers are more available in Prince William than in Fairfax, because the cost of living here is lower, he said. Labor Ready's only Prince William area office is in Manassas.

Would-be workers show up at the Labor Ready office around 5:30 a.m. and are usually dispatched that morning. No skills are necessary to land a day job. The company provides transportation to the job site and back. When the workers return to the store, they receive a voucher for the day's work--typically $7 to $12 an hour--and can submit the voucher to an in-house ATM, which immediately cashes their paychecks.

Cashing out a voucher costs $1. Most of the workers immediately cash their paycheck, Young said. "It's not unusual that they need that money to pay for the electricity that night," he said.

"The keyword to describe this: 'on demand,' " Young said. "Everything we do is on demand. Usually it's [for] a client calling in a panic."

Young said it is not unusual for a client to call at 5:30 p.m. on any given night to ask for a handful of workers to fill in the next day. That's all in a day's work for the folks at Labor Ready.

Bill Daffan, president of R. Edward Daffan Inc., a Manassas-based general contractor and construction management company, said Labor Ready has been a big help during these times of labor shortages and an onslaught of construction jobs.

"They have helped us out with the amount of work that we have right now. They're fulfilling [our needs] during the labor shortage," he said. "They've been very good,"

His company needs workers on a job-by-job basis, he said, because some jobs are delayed by permits, then his crew is spread thin because "several jobs break out at one time."

Thursday was a relatively average day for the Manassas office, which dispatched about 70 workers.

"Even in a difficult year, [Labor Ready] grew . . . earnings per share by 50 percent," said Schneller. "Even in difficult times they have good earnings."

Labor Ready, founded in 1989, currently provides workers for more than 230,000 customers annually, up from 195,000 in 1998. The company filled more than 4.8 million work orders, issued some 6.5 million paychecks and processed 533,000 W-2's in 1998 in its 687 offices in 46 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and the United Kingdom. It reported revenue of $606 million in 1998. A typical office handles 50 to 75 workers a day.

Sales for the office in Manassas, which has been open for about a year, averages $30,000 weekly, Young said.

Labor Ready pays the worker, then bills the client. The company typically doesn't bill less than 20 percent, Young said.

"The company wants to provide a value to their customers, so they don't cut their gross margin or raise it beyond a certain bend because what they provide is a very strong service and very valuable service," Schneller said.

Much like Labor Ready, Labor Finders provides workers to companies looking for laborers. But the workers who go to Labor Finders are skilled construction workers who are looking for long-term assignments.

The Manassas office of Labor Finders opened in February 1995.

Company officials said they expect to have about 140 branches and more than $200 million in sales by the end of the year. "They have had a substantial amount of growth through franchise," Schneller said.

Labor Ready workers "can come back the next day and work again, but it's day labor. A mixture of unskilled and semi-skilled," Schneller said.

"Labor Ready is really feeling a big need for these people. They probably can't get a job maybe because of their backgrounds, but we're able to find them work," Young said.

And, he said, Manassas is the perfect place for a company such as Labor Finders, because the cost of living here is lower than in neighboring areas. Manassas is a good location to find both work and workers, he said. "The demographics come into play."

CAPTION: Robert F. Jones is a manager at Labor Ready, which provides temporary manual laborers to companies.

CAPTION: E. Cosmas Emegbusim, a manager, hands out a job request to worker Randy Copeland, of Manassas.