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Top Jobs for Tough Times

With the economy weakening and the unemployment line growing, we searched for—and found—some good news: local employers who aren’t just surviving the current economic malaise but thriving, hiring, and treating their employees right

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It’s the Stupid Economy
The challenging times have hit local companies hard. We catalog some of the pain.
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Pet-care service provider

Americans don’t just love their pets. They dote on them in good times and bad. Fleece doggie pajamas, anyone? Gourmet cat food? Pet psychotherapy? In a recent survey, the New York-based American Kennel Club found that 88 percent of dog owners thought of their pooch as a “beloved” family member. “Owners are willing to give up other things to pay for the needs of this family member,” says Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the kennel club. That’s good news for the scores of entrepreneurs in Chicago who have launched services dedicated to keeping the family pooch happy and fit. Belmont Terrace-based DoggieWorks, for example, is the brainchild of its owner, Jennifer Zaidan, a former veterinary technician who has worked with dogs for more than ten years. The company’s services include walking and obedience training; staff members will even drive clients to their vets or grooming appointments.

HELP WANTED: Right now, DoggieWorks has about six full-time dog walkers and is looking for more as it expands further into other parts of the city, Zaidan says. A typical dog walker is a college student or someone such as a single parent who needs a flexible work schedule. Dog walkers get $6 per walk and can earn bonuses for extra services or for referring new clients or employees. One potential downside: DoggieWorks prefers employees who have cars, but it does not cover the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: This line of work isn’t for everyone. People who don’t relate to dogs are barking up the wrong tree. “We look for high-energy people that love, love dogs,” says Zaidan.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES: During her 24 years running Pet and Plant Care Service (petandplant.com) on Chicago’s North Side, Deborah Zell Mathews has seen scores of competitors come and go. When Mathews started her company, there was a “small, tight group” of pet care entrepreneurs; now there are around 370 Chicago-area pet-sitting and exercise services listed on Yellowpages.com. Getting into the business is fairly easy, because start-up costs are relatively low, Mathews says.

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One of the world’s leading producers of mining and construction equipment

Global free trade may have become a whipping boy in some political circles, but the issue is playing well in Peoria. With the U.S. economy faltering and Caterpillar’s North American sales growth languishing in the low single digits, the company is delivering stellar financial results and doing its share to hold down the U.S. trade deficit thanks to skyrocketing global demand for its mining and construction equipment. In the past five years, annual revenues have more than doubled, to over $45 billion. In the first quarter of 2008, sales bulldozed 18 percent ahead of the comparable period a year earlier, with much of the growth coming from exports. Global demand for natural resources has fueled a surge in orders for the company’s large mining trucks (made in Decatur), wheel loaders and hydraulic excavators (made in Aurora), hydraulic components (made in Joliet), and other equipment. And in emerging markets, a boom in infrastructure projects such as roads, tunnels, and power plants has boosted demand for Cat’s earthmoving machinery.

HELP WANTED: Caterpillar’s global work force numbers 102,000, about 26,000 of whom punch the clock in Illinois—up from 21,000 just five years ago. Near Chicago, the company operates two large manufacturing facilities, in Aurora and Joliet. The company has a big need for engineers, says Jim Dugan, a spokesman, but it is hiring across the board—in manufacturing operations, process improvement, logistics, technical marketing, information technology, human resources, accounting, finance, and the legal department.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: A job at Caterpillar comes with competitive benefits and an emphasis on learning and development, including a tuition assistance program and Caterpillar U, which offers classes and e-courses to help employees sharpen skills and advance their careers.

STOCK WATCH: Caterpillar has been very good to investors. As of mid-May the stock was up about 19 percent in 2008, compared with minus 5 percent for the S&P 500 stock index, and it has trounced the S&P over the past five years, more than quadrupling the index’s gain of roughly 50 percent. At a recent price of $85, though, the stock is fairly valued, says John Kearney, an equity analyst for Morningstar covering the industrial sector. “It’s not a stock you get a chance to pick up on the cheap a whole lot, because it’s a quality company,” Kearney says.

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Out in the real world, tough times often mean job cuts and lower pay (or slower growth in pay), but that rarely translates into paying lower taxes. As a result, many government agencies still have the cash flow to fill important jobs. The U.S. Postal System, for example, is looking to fill 52 local jobs that pay up to $45.76 per hour. Successful applicants must pass a written exam, be a citizen or have a green card, and hold a high-school diploma or GED. Oh, and you can’t be a convicted felon.

Meanwhile, demand is brisk for schoolteachers and instructors this year. A recent check of the Careerbuilder.com site found there were 237 teaching-related jobs in the Chicago area. Demand is great for all kinds of teachers, ranging from preschool to community colleges. The Chicago Public Schools system is looking to fill 225 positions, including jobs as assistant principals, school nurses, psychologists, social workers, and elementary and high-school teachers. In addition, many local park districts are seeking instructors.

Elsewhere in the public arena, some suburbs are seeking help for their police and fire departments. Among local municipalities looking to fill public safety positions are Arlington Heights, Evanston, Park Ridge, and South Holland.

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Financial services company involved in investment banking, retail and commercial banking, asset management, and more

In a banking industry that’s feeling deep pain, JPMorgan Chase is faring better than many of its peers. Chase, the country’s third-largest bank, was sound enough recently to acquire the near-bankrupt Bear Stearns, albeit at a bargain price. While focused on integrating Bear Stearns into its operations, Chase is also growing its retail banking business, especially at the branch level.

HELP WANTED: Demand for new workers will build as Chase, the Chicago area’s largest consumer bank, continues bulking up its network of full-service branches. Currently Chase has 340 branches in the area, compared with 205 in 2003, and is scouting for new locations, says Thomas Kelly, a spokesman. Locally Chase is hiring predominantly entry-level and mid-level staffers such as tellers (including more bilingual Spanish-English speakers), personal bankers, branch managers, loan officers, and customer service representatives.

PERKS AND BENEFITS: Banks are not known for paying big salaries to the rank and file, and Chase is no exception. But the company does provide a better-than-average benefits package, which includes health coverage for salaried full-timers and part-time employees who regularly work at least 20 hours per week. In some instances, Chase part-timers are providing their families’ primary health insurance coverage, says Kelly, who points out that the bank’s plan covers domestic partners. Chase also provides employees with a pension plan and a 401(k) savings program. (Many companies are phasing out pension plans.) It also provides an employee discount stock purchase program.

STOCK WATCH: Chase has been bruised but not beaten by the mortgage and credit crisis. In the first quarter of 2008, net earnings fell 50 percent, to $2.4 billion, compared with a year earlier. Still, earnings clocked in at 68 cents a share, exceeding analysts’ expectations and maybe even auguring a turning of the tide. Fox-Pitt Kelton, a New York-based investment house, recently raised its rating, predicting Chase stock would “outperform” its peers in 2008.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES: Bank of America, which recently acquired LaSalle National Bank, is also on the prowl locally for new hires. A recent check of that bank’s job board found 97 area-based help wanted postings for many of the same kinds of positions that Chase is looking to fill.

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