Economic development leaders in Clark County say they want to ramp up workforce development going into the new year as the area has recently seen sizable investments and promises of more jobs.
Several companies in Clark County either announced or started expansion projects over the last two years and have stated that more than 600 jobs would be created as a result. However, local employers are still having difficulties finding suitable candidates.
Adding to that difficulty, is competition from employers in nearby counties as well as larger cities due to the workforce becoming more mobile over past years. Places like Columbus or Dayton can offer higher wages, but they also have a higher costs of living, said Amy Donahoe, director of Workforce Development with the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
“We want to make sure that we are connecting with (residents) that are working outside of the county and hopefully pull them back in,” she said, as part of a strategy to boost the number of Clark County residents that also work within the county line.
The chamber has touted that the county has a large 45-minute labor shed, the number of people who live within a 45 minute drive to the area. They estimate that 3.7 million people live within that labor shed and 1.9 million are of working age.
More than 50 percent of Clark County’s workforce, or roughly 30,000 people, have jobs elsewhere. The wages in the greater Dayton and Columbus areas can be $5,000 to $10,000 greater on an annual basis depending on the job field, Donahoe told the News-Sun.
The chamber is working with Hucklebuck Design Studio to create a marketing campaign geared towards residents working outside of the county. Donahoe said it is part of ongoing conversations with local employers, that also addresses competitive wages seen in other communities.
There is also a focus on getting those working in the area but living elsewhere more engaged with the community.
However, the overall goal of the campaign is to show residents some of the benefits of working within the county line. That includes reduced commute times as well as travel costs. The details of the marketing campaign are still being worked out, but those with the chamber say they hope to see significant progress made within the first half of the year.
Donahoe said the focus last year was to work with employers as well as raise money towards efforts focused on retaining local talent. She said now it’s time to put together a plan that will better highlight those work opportunities in the county.
There is expected to be a slowdown this year in the number of leads from regional partners and the state regarding possible economic development projects in the county. That is mainly due to the uncertainty that usually accompanies a general election year, said Horton Hobbs, Vice-President of Economic Development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
“Companies plan accordingly. It does not effect every single company, but it can effect the supply chain,” he said of the uncertainty, for businesses, that surrounds a general election.
However, that is not always the case, Hobbs added, noting that the county has received three of those leads between the end of 2019 and the beginning of this year. There were about 50 economic development leads last year from both out of and within the county.
Roughly 81 percent of job growth and investment seen in the county over a period of seven years has come from existing businesses, according to data provided by the chamber.
The News-Sun reported in November, that there had been a 1.3% increase in Clark County jobs compared to 2018. Those calculations were made by Bill LaFayette, an economist and owner of Regionomics, a Columbus-based economics and workforce consulting firm.
He said at the time, there was also a 5% increase in manufacturing jobs in the county compared to the same period in 2018. However, LaFayette added that those estimates could change in March, when more information is released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, the workforce challenges faced in the county in recent years are expected to remain more or less the same going into 2020. A shortage of labor has been a common complaint among business owners, especially in manufacturing and agriculture, Sen. Rob. Portman, R-Ohio, said during an August workforce development discussion held in Springfield.
More skilled labor positions are being vacated by retirees and those positions are not being filled by the next generation of workers, Hobbs said.
There are still the same issues such as workforce availability, identifying the workforce, it is not any different. But as each year goes by, we get a little smarter in what needs to be done,” he added.
Donahoe said that for this year, efforts are geared towards reaching middle school and high school students as well as connecting them with internship opportunities.
“We are continuing to communicate, making sure that the schools and our businesses have an open line of communication,” she said.
As a result, the chamber is looking to create a position that would work alongside Donahoe in terms of workforce development. The goal is to have someone that would better connect county school districts with the business community.
That position is expected to work with all of the school districts in the county and would work primarily out of the chamber’s office on South Limestone Street. But, Donahoe said, that person would also be present at the schools they work with.
Members of the chamber said they are still working out the details of what that position would look like, but noted that it would be a person that the schools could rely on when it comes to getting connected with a variety of different industries in the area.
Though some districts have forged connections within the business sector at varying degrees, the new position aims to better coordinate those efforts and serve as single point of contact for the businesses and schools it would work with.
“The schools would not have to fund a position for this type of work,” Donahoe said, noting that she hopes to have someone hired in that position during the first part of the year.
“The state has a ton of apprenticeships. We need to look at the type of industries offering those opportunities, look at training beyond high school,” she added. “Students need to understand what that looks like. Teachers do not always have a chance to enter that world.”
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