Report gives Reno labor market mixed reviews | NevadaAppeal.com

Report gives Reno labor market mixed reviews

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

RENO – Reno and the surrounding western Nevada region has an adequate labor pool to meet the needs of most of it’s existing industries, but questions about education and the area’s image may stand in the way of attracting higher skilled professionals, a report issued Friday concluded.

“Although the region has many labor assets, it does have some labor-related challenges,” according to an assessment prepared by Wadley-Donovan GrowthTech, a New Jersey-based economic development consulting firm.

Among other things, the report identified employer concerns over the quality and funding of public education and the dominance of low-paying service sector jobs as hindering economic development.

“Employers need a highly trained work force to be able to function and thrive,” said William Fredrick, Wadley-Donovan president. “If you start cutting funding at the education level, that’s a direct assault on business.”

That’s not to say the greater Reno area – encompassing a 40-mile radius and portions of Washoe, Storey, Lyon and Douglas counties and Carson City, doesn’t have appealing attributes or hasn’t made significant strides toward diversifying it economy, Fredrick said.

It’s weaned itself, in part, from the gambling and tourism industry that dominated the area’s economy for decades and branched out into manufacturing, distribution and warehousing industries.

And for those industries, the available work force is adequate, the report said.

But despite a statewide unemployment rate that reached 10.6 percent in April, the report said available workers don’t meet the needs of nearly half of the region’s occupations. The report said the area’s worker pool is lacking for industries in the science and engineering fields or senior management positions.

“You’re now faced with the challenge of going to the next level, professions that require more technically advanced skills,” Fredrick said. “The problem is getting those folks to the area.”

Recruiting is difficult because of perceptions that the Reno area is a recreation center and concerns about its public education system, the report said.

“Companies may be reticent to locate a facility in an area that is viewed more as a recreational center than a business center because of the perception that a suitable work force is not readily available and that the needed business and training infrastructure is not available,” the report said.

The $100,000 study was commissioned by the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, NVEnergy Inc., and Nevadaworks, an independent agency formed under a federal law that coordinates work force development in the region.

More than 1,200 employers with 20 or more employees were mailed surveys about the local labor market in February, and about 10 percent responded, with some agreeing to personal interviews. Additionally, 930 residents ages 18-74 were surveyed at random on employment status, training needs, income and education levels.

Tom Fitzgerald, CEO of Nevadaworks, called the low response from employers frustrating, but the report’s overall findings encouraging.

“This gave me more hope than I’ve had in the last eight years,” he said.

Overall, the report said residents in western Nevada are better educated than the national or state averages. In 2008, 85 percent had at least a high school diploma, nearly 62 percent completed some years of higher education, 16 percent had achieved a bachelor’s degree and nearly 8 percent had a graduate or professional degree.

For many employers, that’s a good foundation for workers to succeed in company-sponsored training.

Fitzgerald and Brad Woodring, economic development manager at NVEnergy, Nevada’s main electrical utility, said what’s needed is more cooperation between companies, educators and government leaders on how to enrich the labor pool.

“It’s those larger companies that we hear from all the time that say we don’t have a bigger qualified work force,” Woodring said. “We don’t know what the expectations of these employers are unless they tell us.”

Fitzgerald and Woodring said the work force will deepen as Northern Nevada embraces emerging renewable energy resources and technologies, a move they say will create high-tech jobs, attract highly skilled workers and spur a new phase in economic development.