As a recent graduate, the world of economic development meant something very simple to me; develop the economy (for lack of better words), in whatever fashion necessary. I had no idea everything that went into growing and sustaining one specific area. Perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention in econ class, or maybe I was just too naive fully understand what’s been going on with the world lately.
Mark Lautman, author of “When the Boomers Bail,” visited the Corridor region last Monday and Tuesday, presenting us with some very daunting information. Obviously, we knew something pretty big was about to be dropped on our shoulders, but weren’t quite sure of the logistics. He spoke in many sessions over the two day period about the shift that our economy is currently facing; an emphasis (should be) on the growth of the economy rather than the population. He stated that if the economy grows slower than the population, everybody has more people to serve with less money. That doesn’t exactly work too well.
Mark went on to explain that for the first time in our history, families aren’t having enough children to replace themselves – crazy, huh? It seems like people are having kids left and right (of course, that could just be the epidemic on my Facebook newsfeed lately). According to Mark, as families become more affluent, they have less children. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it costs A LOT of money to raise a child – hence why the more educated you are, the less children you have. As this trend takes place it is leaving our economy in a tough spot.
Mark also listed off numerous other problems that we will be facing in the near future: a lack of qualified workers, a win-lose job market, a growing number of unqualified workers and also those people who are becoming too old to work, companies going where the workers are rather than employees seeking out job opportunities, and many, many more.
So before I bore you more with all the technical jargon, how about I try to explain it in layman’s terms from my point of view?
First off, I had no idea this workforce issue was even a problem. I heard it mentioned in the office when talking about our initiatives, but never delved into it long enough to understand its complexity. Secondly, ahh! What a scary concept to think about; we seriously aren’t going to have enough people to foster the economy in the future? Um, get to havin’ babies, people!
But in all seriousness, I probably got something way different from his discussions than most others simply because of my age and status in life. I was the only one under 30 in the room at any given time – naturally, that makes my viewpoint extremely different.
As most of you know, I recently had to search for a job upon graduation. My first thought was to go to a bigger citiy like Des Moines or Omaha for the simple fact that they’re bigger; logical thinking would have me assume that a larger city = more opportunities for employment. I also couldn’t help but think about financials. As most of you can remember (or will soon find out), being a poor post-college grad is no fun. So I had some options – I could go to Des Moines, live at home (for free, I might add) and save money or I could take a risk and move to an area where the opportunities hadn’t presented themselves quite like they had in the “big” city, continuing to be poor for an even longer period. I love my job and don’t regret my decision whatsoever, but I know those same thoughts must go through young people’s minds when considering their options.
Brad Simington, a board member of ours, mentioned that values play a very large part in where someone decides to end up. And I couldn’t agree more. What means the most to you? I bet that’s exactly the path that you took when making all these major life decisions. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is an emotional/social component to this entire situation. If someone doesn’t believe they will, for example, find their spouse in our region, chances are they aren’t going to head this direction. So, what do we do to make them believe that they will find their “honey?”
All these issues pose an interesting outlook on where to go from here. I think we all look at this problem through a different scope; naturally, our position in life plays a huge role in how we think about tackling this. A 22 year old looks at this issue much different than a 50 year old, which is why it’s so intimidating.
It’s now our duty as the economic development corporation in the region to ensure that all of these problems are addressed properly, steps are taken and solutions are found so that this area can grow and prosper. There are a million ways to look at this problem (which is a good and a bad thing), but at least we have options to consider.
The Corridor has been proactive about this issue with its Workforce Initiative. We understand that stimulating the economy, this region in particular, is essential if we want to continue to live, work and play here. Our strategic goals have shifted; the workforce issue is most definitely front and center on the docket. Mark helped us come up with some strategies for the future and we can’t wait to see them through.
I would love to hear your take on the situation and listen to any suggestions you may have for us as we come up with objectives and an overall game plan. Workforce development is intimidating, for sure, but it cannot be overlooked.
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- Alexa Guessford