OUR VIEW: Workforce plan needed to head off troubleThe words used by Bryan Hisel last week were strong and to the point. During a presentation to the Mitchell Rotary Club, the executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corp. said this region is in trouble because its population has declined as its need for workers has increased. He presented statistics to show his point, and those did tend to paint a dire picture.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
The words used by Bryan Hisel last week were strong and to the point. During a presentation to the Mitchell Rotary Club, the executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corp. said this region is in trouble because its population has declined as its need for workers has increased. He presented statistics to show his point, and those did tend to paint a dire picture.
For starters, Hisel says he considers the Mitchell “community” to be more than just the land and people within the city limits. He considers the community to include Davison County and five nearby counties: Hanson, Hutchinson, Sanborn, Aurora and Douglas. That “community” saw a population decline of 2.3 percent between the 2000 census and the 2010 census. Davison County actually gained 4 percent, or 763 people, in that span, but the others generally saw declines, including Hutchinson (minus 732 residents), Sanborn (minus 320), Aurora (minus 348) and Douglas (minus 456).
And the population in Mitchell’s 15-county trade and service area has dropped by some 4,000, or 4.5 percent, from 2000 to 2010.
Meanwhile, the number of full- and part-time jobs in Davison County has climbed from approximately 9,000 in 1990 to approximately 11,000 today, according to Hisel’s statistics.
Armed with these figures, Hisel isn’t mincing words.
“You want it to be shiny apple time and say that Mitchell increased in population,” he told the Rotarians. “That is true, but Mitchell’s 15-county trade and service area has lost over 4,000 people.”
He said we’re in a developmental “danger zone” and that the “collision between population decrease and job increase has hit the wall.”
The result of this lopsided situation is that companies may decide that Mitchell is not a feasible place to set up business, since the region may not be able to supply workers for a large industry. Once businesses decide to not move here — or current ones leave — it could set forth a domino effect that prevents economic development in the future.
What to do?
Hisel said it’s important to begin recruiting workers immediately. In hopes of achieving that, a Workforce Summit was held last month in Mitchell. It resulted in recommendations that, if implemented, could pay off in the coming years.
Among the recommendations:
n Hire a recruiter who would work on behalf of the Mitchell region.
n Promote the James River Valley in a national recruiting blitz, via a national media consulting firm.
* Providing housing assistance, spousal employment assistance and “a form of sponsorship” to make families feel welcome.
* Improving housing options. Hisel told the Rotary that “we have to have housing. You can’t find an apartment in Mitchell right now.”
* Change the way we view postsecondary education and recognize that technical training is important to this region’s development. In addition, the task force recommends that the state take on more of a role in understanding that it will cost money — and more commitment from the state — to train the workers needed to spur development in this part of the state.
A more comprehensive list of recommendations is included elsewhere on this page.
We enjoyed Hisel’s presentation, and agree that population decline in our region is a startling reality that will continue. We also agree that our “community” should combat it with aggressive measures. The Workforce Summit’s recommendations should be read by anyone with a stake in this community’s economic future. Whether the situation is as dire as Hisel has predicted is debatable, of course, but worthy of good and thorough discussion.
These suggestions are a good place to start.