People@Work: Rising Relocations Are Another Good Sign for Jobs

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Friday's April employment report brought more good news and hope for job seekers. Employers added 290,000 jobs last month, and more unemployed Americans resumed their job hunts in earnest, as the uptick in the employment rate to 9.9% shows.

Another barometer also shows employment prospects are growing brighter: More people are relocating to take jobs, according to the latest Atlas Van Lines annual Corporate Relocation Survey. More than 20% of companies expect an increase in relocations this year, a vast improvement over last year when more than half of polled companies anticipated a decrease, the survey found.

Furthermore, the majority of companies surveyed expect their financial performance to improve this year, and they cautiously anticipate stability or even improvement in both the U.S. economy and real estate market.

"Brighter Future" Ahead

"These survey results are a possible early sign of a recovery for the relocation industry, and they indicate that companies are finding ways to contain costs while retaining employee incentives," said Jack Griffin, president and chief operating officer at Atlas Van Lines, in a statement accompanying the survey's release. "But the best news is that firms are predicting a brighter future both for themselves and the overall economy."

The moving industry isn't the only one noticing this trend. Business is up more than twofold at School Choice International in White Plains, N.Y., which works with parents facing overseas job relocations who need to find the best schools for their children in their destination country. The firm works with companies as notable as FedEx (FDX), PepsiCo (PEP), Kraft Foods (KFT), ConAgra (CAG), Credit Suisse Group (CS), UBS (UBS) and several others.

School Choice is the busiest it's been in its 12-year history, says President Liz Perelstein. "There's tons of relocations, a huge increase, and I think that will continue," she says. Perelstein believes the uptick in her business is a barometer for the economy as a whole. Still, she says, the manner in which companies are relocating workers and their families is somewhat different than in years past.

Businesses are forgoing many of the perks that once accompanied international relocation, she says. Those include items such as paid housing or cars. In an effort to keep costs in check, cautious corporations are instead opting to relocate employees as if they were local hires. Still, Perelstein says while relocation packages aren't as sweet as they once were, they may be the difference between keeping or getting a job and not.

It's Worth Taking a Loss

In recent years, the falling real estate market has meant fewer job seekers were willing to consider relocation for fear of losing what value might be left in their homes. But even that concern isn't keeping some job-seekers from pulling up roots and getting on with their careers, says New York real estate broker J. Philip Faranda.

Faced with remaining out of work or losing a job, workers are taking matters into their own hands and financing their own relocation even if it means losing money, Faranda says. "When you have to get out of Dodge, you don't have the luxury of being speculative on asking price," he says. "You have to price your house to the bone in the hopes that [a buyer] will jump on it."

That strategy may involve selling a house for less than the mortgaged amount, known as a short sale. Faranda, who specializes in such transactions, says he's working right now with a couple in that situation who are planning a move to Florida, after one of them accepted a job at a university there. They leaped at the chance to move, even though the job offer didn't include a relocation package, he says. "They just want to get out."
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