In addition to Sullivan, those interviewed included Ben Ayers, senior economist for Nationwide Insurance in Columbus; Greg Blatt, president of Dayton Realtors and a realtor at Keller Williams Advisors Realty; Jim Bowman, owner and CEO of Noble Tool LLC of Dayton; Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert; Crystal L. Corbin, executive director of the Montgomery County Transportation Improvement District; Dave Dickerson, partner and president of Midwest market at Miller Valentine Construction of Dayton; Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon; Tom Franzen, Springfield assistant city manager and director of economic development; Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck; Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce; and David Melin, PNC regional president for Dayton.
The Dayton region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which was approved last year, says the top priority is to develop, attract and retain diversified talent, and to encourage workforce readiness and resilience.
Achieving that involves a four-part strategy focusing on education at all levels, aligning education and workforce development programs with industry need and opportunities, addressing structural barriers like costs, transportation, housing and childcare and promoting the region’s career opportunities, according to the plan.
“When you combine our career opportunities and our quality of life, the Dayton region has a lot to offer,” Sullivan said. “The more our companies share not just what jobs they have open, but what our community can offer, the more likely we are to become a destination for job seekers.”
Blatt and Dickerson said affordable housing is a workforce hurdle that needs addressed as the region tries to attract workers.
“We really have limitations on what I consider to be affordable housing that the state and the region need to really concentrate on,” Dickerson said. “If we are talking about retaining or attracting talent to the state you’ve got to live somewhere. And we haven’t really kept abreast of that.”
Another big part of the workforce problem is there are simply fewer people in the labor market to fill job openings. The labor force participation rate, which measures the number of people working or looking for work, was 62.3% in December, still below the pre-pandemic rate of 63.4%, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Finding skilled workers was challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic. But experts say it exacerbated the problem as it led many older people to leave the workforce as well as large numbers of women, who continue to struggle to find affordable, quality child care. Some people no longer in the workforce are among the more than 1.1 million who died of COVID, others are discouraged job seekers or people afraid of of catching COVID in the workplace. Fewer legal immigrants and the aging U.S. population also are factors.
“I meet often with business owners and workforce seems to be the primary issue. Across the country and in our region, we have seen a population decline in the core working age group of 25- to 60-years-old. Currently, we have significantly more jobs than people to fill open positions,” Melin said. “The solution is education. We need an educated workforce with the right skills to attract new businesses and support our existing economy.”
He and others said the region’s higher education institutions are robust and people have many opportunities to pursue credentialed skills training and college degrees, although finding the money to do so can be challenging for some people.
State and local governments have focused resources on a variety of job training opportunities.
Counties play an important role, noted Colbert, pointing to Montgomery County’s programs providing job training, help with resume writing and interview skills, connecting workers with jobs and encouraging youth to finish high school.
“We partnered with Sinclair (Community College) to provide an IT apprenticeship, Miami Valley Career Technology Center to provide remedial math and reading courses to those who need a little extra boost. That’s all offered at our Employment Opportunity Center in west Dayton,” Colbert said. “We have also collaborated with the local AFL-CIO’s Building Futures program supporting trade apprentices for those 18 years or older within six to eight weeks, with a certification and employment with journeyman wages, which are 50% over the minimum living wage.”
Colbert said the county’s YouthWorks program provides paid work experience to high school students and College 2 Work targets young adults aged 17 and up who are in college or on a waiting list.
“With so many people leaving our workforce now, it is more important than ever to train, mentor and guide the development of our youth,” Colbert said. “Young people are truly worth the investment because they are the ones who will work and lead in our community for years to come.”
See our four-part 2023 economic outlook series
Part 1 - The region’s general economic outlook
Part 2 - The possibility of a recession and its impact
Part 3 - The effect of inflation and higher interest rates
Part 4 - Labor shortages and workforce issues
Follow @LynnHulseyDDN on Twitter and Facebook