Welcome to the land of full employment.
This booming capital city in the heart of North Carolina's high-tech belt is awash in jobs. Local stores are buying television time to advertise openings. Hotel and restaurant jobs go begging. Construction projects are stalled for lack of carpenters. The jobless rate is a scant 3.4 percent, well below what most economists define as full employment.
"Normally when we run an ad in the local newspaper, 1,200 to 1,400 people respond," said Larry Greene, who recently opened a supermarket here. "This time we had virtually no response at all."
If the nation's economic recovery has an uneven topography, Raleigh is nicely perched atop one of the peaks. So are Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Manchester, N.H., and Portland, Maine, each of which has an unemployment rate below 4 percent.
At the same time, Cleveland's economy "still stinks," according to its mayor, and double-digit unemployment prevails there and in Detroit, Buffalo, Newark, Birmingham, Rockford, Ill., and Gary, Ind., where it is 21.7 percent.
How can some cities and suburbs be papered with want ads while the pickings are so slim elsewhere? Why don't more people go where the jobs are?
"Some of these groups that have high unemployment are not terribly mobile," said Brookings Institution economist Anthony Downs. He pointed to "younger people still attached to their families, people who are held by a welfare system and homeowners who have trouble selling their homes."
At the same time, many laid-off industrial workers are hard-pressed to transfer their highly paid skills to other fields. Other workers are reluctant to leave their native regions or are dissuaded by the lower wages and jobless benefits in southern communities such as the Raleigh-Durham area.
Still, there is considerable migration to the new boom towns such as Phoenix, where construction is breaking all records. Phoenix has been getting so many inquiries from out-of-state job-seekers that officials printed a booklet on wages, housing and other helpful hints.
"We go through a couple of hundred a week," said Arizona labor official Dan Anderson.
In Framingham, Mass., a suburban retail center where unemployment is 2.9 percent, fast-food chains cannot find enough locals to sell hamburgers, even at $4.50 an hour. So they are paying for vans to ferry two dozen workers from Athol, a depressed mill town 1 1/2 hours away.
"If you drive around here, you see help-wanted signs everywhere -- Now Training, Flex Time, Mothers' Hours Available," said Michelle Cunha of Framingham's Chamber of Commerce. "I don't think there are many jobs in this area that are paying minimum wage."
But most jobless workers in nearby Boston cannot afford to move to the high-priced suburbs, and there is little public transportation to Framingham.
By the same token, unemployment is more than 11 percent in Franklin County, N.C., an hour's drive from the shiny office buildings going up in downtown Raleigh.
The signs of Raleigh's growth are everywhere. Traffic congestion is rising, apartment vacancies are rare, and it is getting harder to find a house for under $100,000. It is little wonder that some folks do not want this city of 180,000 to turn into a magnet for the jobless.
"If the news were to go out to the Ohio Valley that we need workers, I'm sure we'd have people packing in their cars and driving in," said Raleigh Mayor Avery C. Upchurch. "Some people have told me, 'Mayor, be quiet, let's not spoil a good thing.' "
On the other hand, Upchurch said he wishes there had been more tradesmen around when a contractor had to delay the new parking garage next to city hall. "Carpenters and people like that can name their price," he said.
Smedes York, a former mayor who runs a construction company here, said some of his projects were stalled while he looked for subcontractors from as far away as West Virginia. "We've got about all the business we can handle," he said.
At Kimbrell's Furniture Store, manager John Long said he cannot compete with the high-tech firms that are multiplying like rabbits. "We just can't hire anyone," Long said. He said delivery workers "can get much better pay without having to work Saturdays or evenings. You hire them at $4 an hour, and the next thing you know they're working for the state or the telephone company."
Secretaries are in great demand. "We have a tough time filling our orders," said Henry Turlington of Manpower Temporary Services, which offers free word-processing courses. "The companies are producing the hardware faster than we're producing the workers who can handle it."
The engine for this employment machine lies outside the city at Research Triangle Park, 6,200 wooded acres of high-tech haven surrounded by the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke University.
While other areas compete to offer business the greatest tax breaks, dozens of firms -- Citicorp, IBM, ITT, DuPont, Ciba-Geigy, GTE, Hewlett-Packard, Mitsubishi Semiconductor, and others with names like Teletec and Compucolor -- are moving divisions here without a dime's worth of public subsidy.
But all the jobs are not for those who can take apart a silicon chip. Raleigh's technical college is finding jobs for 600 students a year in such fields as industrial engineering and robotics, and officials say they could place twice that number.
The secret to urban success in the 1980s seems to be diversification. The more a city's fortunes rest on an older industrial base, economists say, the higher its unemployment is likely to be.
Even during the recession, this area's jobless rate never rose above 5 percent because its universities, state bureaucracy and tobacco industry remained strong employers. Light manufacturing, trade, real estate and services all have been generating new jobs.
These factors have combined with a larger demographic trend -- the shrinking teen-age labor force -- to put the squeeze on businesses that once had a ready supply of cheap labor. Many younger people now have their pick of more lucrative jobs.
"There's a labor shortage at the low end of the scale -- cooks, maids, dishwashers," said Douglas Bryant, who runs two hotels here. "You used to be able to depend on a lot of moonlighters, people with other jobs. I guess maybe they're making more money . . . . The part-time market we rely on so heavily is drying up." Greene said he found out the hard way when he tried to hire 400 people for Farm Fresh, a supermarket-pharmacy-clothing store. A small classified ad had brought 1,400 applicants for a new Richmond, Va., store, so he took out a half-page ad in the Raleigh News and Observer and reserved a high school gymnasium for the crowd. Twenty-three people showed up, although some jobs were paying up to $40,000.
Greene said he also tried putting up signs at the North Carolina State campus, "but we didn't get a single response." He eventually filled the jobs through radio and TV ads.
At the local unemployment office, the 6,640 people on the jobless rolls -- of a county work force of 190,380 -- include many who are between jobs.
"We see as many people in this office who are employed as unemployed," said state job counselor Marian Dansby.
While there is a hard core of jobless people with no transportation, child care problems or little incentive to work, those not afraid of heavy lifting remain in demand.
"We can't even find laborers," Dansby said. "Anyone who wants to work is working."