Workforce Crucial to Rural Economic Development

Workforce Crucial to Rural Economic Development

Chatom, AL, -Workforce in rural areas is one of the most urgent hindrances to economic development according to a recent study.  Washington County statistics referenced in the recent study (December 2016) funded by the Delta Regional Authority titled The Rural Workforce Mismatch is confirmed by some of the county’s largest employers according to Economic Development Director Mel Ann Sullivan.  “Our plant managers in the chemical corridor, utility service providers and some municipalities, were interviewed and they all expressed the same concern regarding workforce challenges.” Sullivan said. “Attracting and retaining qualified workforce is one of the issues that concerns them most.”

The county’s economic development investors maintain focus on a number of critical issues that include: insuring the safety of our communities, maintaining corporate culture, an enduring corporate citizenship, and risk management. However, workforce is a common concern among them.  The county’s largest employers bring resources to the county to impact job growth.  However, the current workforce region of nearly 395,000 within a 60-minute drive time of Washington County hinders the local workforce of only 17,658 (within 30-minute drive time) in competing and qualifying for the best jobs.   Many local residents, therefore, are forced to work outside the local area to meet income needs to support their families.  According to Sullivan, likewise, many of the employees inside plants head south on Hwy. 43 at the end of their shift to homes in Mobile and Baldwin counties, among others.

Some of the findings of the study impact Washington County, and other surrounding rural counties in Southwest Alabama:

  • Washington County is included in the counties expected to see job gains by 2022.
  • Of those 1,342 rural jobs expected, 35% will come from the trucking industry.
  • Underemployed individuals have difficulty advancing to the middle-skill jobs ($13.75/hour and up) which are offer a family-sustaining wage for financial stability and upward career growth.
  • Education level increases correlate to decreased unemployment rates, yet very few pursue higher education.
  • Efforts to reduce this trend have a direct effect on poverty levels.

One of the primary recommendations in the study specifically addressing Washington County needs is to develop a satellite community college training center in Washington County in close proximity to the chemical manufacturing corridor.  The study sites the following reasons for such a move:

  • Highest concentration of non-durable goods manufacturing companies in the region
  • Highest demand for educated workforce
  • Impending retirement crisis in 1 to 5 years
  • All critical occupations require community college education and work experience
  • The distance to travel for education is significant
  • Provision of training for both job seekers and incumbent workers

During a recent presentation to the Washington County Commission, Sullivan also shared information about the other work of the Washington County Economic Development Initiative (WCedi) including completion of a land use study, a planned forestry event, and several projects that suggest infrastructure improvements in the McIntosh area (near the Washington County Business Park).

Phase I of the land use study has been completed for the most attractive industry corridor (Hwy. 43) and on Hwy 56 near the state line revealing 16 sites and a total of 961 acres prime for commercial/industrial use.  Landowners have been identified, and are being approached regarding their interest in listing commercially appealing property on the state’s website for site selectors (www.advantagealabama.com).

“We are also gathering forestry leaders and investors on October 19th surrounding conversations to improve the economic impact of forestry in our county,” Sullivan said.  Speakers from the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama International Trade Center, Alabama State Port Authority, and the Alabama Forestry Association will bring local, state, and regional data to the group gathered according to Sullivan.

The Washington County Economic Development Initiative (WCedi) works to increase economic opportunities for businesses and industries and improve the quality of life for individuals in Washington County, Alabama.

 

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Mel Ann Sullivan at 251.259.815 or email at melann@millry.net.