Bricktown in Oklahoma at dusk.

(The Center Square) – The March jobs report lends optimism to a workforce and an economy that has been through the wringer because of the pandemic in Oklahoma, and nationally.

Several factors, including increased consumer spending, relaxed restrictions on dining and entertainment and the race to vaccinate contribute to a brightening trend and hopeful outlook. The transportation industry has seen increasing numbers of people traveling through airports, though not yet what pre-pandemic levels were.

All of these signs point to employers looking to fill more permanent jobs, and Oklahoma is no exception.

"Oklahoma has been fortunate because compared to other states, our economy has generally been allowed to remain open and operating," Jerrod Shouse, Oklahoma state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), told The Center Square. "Small business owners have not been exposed to the same state government mandates and shutdowns we've seen elsewhere, and many have been able to retain their employees and keep Oklahoma’s economy going."

Shouse said the results of an NFIB survey show that 42% of small business owners reported job openings they couldn’t fill. The industry that has the most potential for an increase in available jobs is the construction industry, and more than half, 55%, of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants, Shouse said.

The restaurant and entertainment industries, hit most hard by the restrictions of the pandemic, are least likely to see employment gains, he added.

"Small businesses are the backbone of Oklahoma’s economy," Shouse said. "They are the entrepreneurs and the job creators, and when the small business sector does well, the entire state does well. And not only do small business owners create jobs, but they actively support and give back to their local communities."