Column: Expanding your labor pool

If you're overwhelmed by the thought of competing with the high-tech companies for workers, relax. Every town or city needs a variety of employers (like you) to match the skills of its labor pool.

In January 1999, the economy was very robust and there was speculation that "It can't go on forever." We've completed the year 2000, and in spite of Mr. Greenspan's efforts, the nation continues to grow at a very strong level and set records for the lowest levels of unemployment in 30 years.

The expanding economy continues to drive new business formations and growth of existing companies which has continued to put pressure on the labor force.

In this article, we'll examine the supplier of labor.....the region/communities.... and the mind set that has evolved within these markets during this boom time.

A new phenomenon that is developing at the community level, which may be of particular relevance to readers of this newspaper, is the challenge that our communities are facing in balancing growth with the supply of labor to fill the positions created by the growth.

There is an attitude developing in many communities across the nation, state and region that they don't want any business type that does not pay top wages. It appears that the high demand for labor is being viewed as an opportunity to accommodate only the highest paying employers offering the highest skilled jobs in the market place for their community.

While this is commendable on the surface, it is inconceivable that every worker in the community is qualified for a high-tech job, or in many cases capable and willing to be trained as a high-tech or high-dollar worker. Even the Northern Nevada Development Authority's Mission Statement, says, "NNDA is a non-profit, public/private economic development organization dedicated to creating new investments and primary jobs that enhance the economic wealth of northern Nevada."

With few exceptions, communities across the region all have workers with skill levels that run the gamut from low-skilled to the highly skilled.

These low-skill workers need employment as well, and communities may be overlooking good job opportunities for these people on the promise of securing high-skill, high-paying jobs, which they may not be capable of filling.

These continue to be challenging times for both the companies we (NNDA), try to attract and encourage to expand in the communities we represent; Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties. As noted before, these companies must continually reassess their compensation and benefit policies, human resources practices management philosophy, work environment, employees commute time and their local image to be competitive in the market place. This situation has forced companies to use multiple recruitment methods and to position themselves as an "employer of choice" to stay competitive.

However, the bigger challenge now seems to be with the communities to make intelligent decisions about how to balance the available jobs to the community's population and limited work force.

It is important that this success derived from the historic economic boom not be taken as the standard for the future. There will be a change at some point in the future and communities must be ever mindful of that situation.

Part of your analysis today should include some thought of how your company will fare in the future and can it withstand a major or minor downturn in the economy?

Your company's ability to make it through some rocky times can make you more attractive to communities for your business.

Communities, site location professionals and companies must work closer together than ever before to meet these challenges. These are prosperous times, but all of these entities must strive to make sound long-term decisions that are best for all parties.

Kris E. Holt, Executive Director, Northern Nevada Development Authority

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