Incremental Dismantling of Communities

Working with and in communities in the capacity of economic development for over two  decades I’ve seen the subtle, incremental dismantling of good economic development practices.  Incremental dismantling of a community is created and fueled by poor public administration, misguided policy, and ego driven behaviors.

Economic development in many communities is taking place at the expense of the citizens and community resources.  In the past economic development was shaped by community development, which included planning, civic service, and a sense of the greater good.  Over the last decade or more it appears in many places to be morphing into a win at all cost, any project is a good project, ‘shoot at anything that flies, claim anything that falls’ charade.ThinkThrough

Does planning still take place in communities?  Often planning does take place, implementation however does not always follow.  I had a conversation a few weeks ago with someone who makes a very nice living creating community plans. He voiced frustration and discouragement of repeatedly seeing his work completed, only to go sit on a shelf in an office never to be actually implemented.  So we know paying for a plan isn’t enough.  Staying focused and implementing policy to  support a plan is vital.

In the places that economic development has become a shell of the original intent you can see a direct correlation between the incremental dismantling, or even production of poor policy to feed the ‘beast’  as community resources are squandered. When economic development is more about headline and glory grabs community members will disengage and a downward cycle will develop.

True economic development is focused on community engagement, growth, planning, and development supported by well thought out and implemented policy.  When good policy is in place the public administration path is clear and the influence of politics and/or ego diminishes.  That is a formula that leads to community and  resource growth, as well as civic pride.

 

Three Things That Won’t Solve Workforce Challenges

Ten or so years ago workforce development was the job of professionals within the workforce development field. Now, workforce development has morphed into an effort that for some reason more people and professions than needed are trying to contribute to. The issue in many cases is “what” the non-workforce professionals are trying to contribute. Here is a list of three things being forced into the workforce development arena that are limited at best, and counterproductive at worst. paperwork_overload_by_primousinwonderland_d5eu4w7-fullview

1) Government training and engagement funding programs. Paperwork, with a side of paperwork is curbing enthusiasm and the ability to access some potentially good State based programs. Money will be left on the table when the process consumes too much of human resource’s time. Why? Because human resource’s time equals money as well. Additionally, they are already busy people. Yes to training and engagement funds, but let’s simplify the hoops and time consumption currently attached to them.

2) Economic developers. I am a recovering economic developer so I say this with love. Economic development is a full time, and important job in communities. Impact and ability are diluted when workforce is added in as ‘economic development.’ Almost any economic developer who was around 10+ year ago went kicking and screaming to Workforce Investment Act meetings because it ‘wasn’t what an economic developer did.’ Let’s quit forcing people into conversations and dynamics that take away from what they were originally hired to do. The exception, creating a job or department within the economic development organization specifically to target partnerships with workforce professionals and support growing workforce efforts.

3) Incentivizing only job creation/retention growth. Incentivizing manufacturing growth only when it includes jobs created doesn’t make sense anymore, especially in rural areas. You only need to look at demographic trends to see the issue. If you only incentivize job creation, rural areas will eventually lose their manufacturers and they will at times move to secure both more people and the funds that come with them. Most of us know multiple companies who have jumped locations for economic development funding. Why? Because many States have built incentive programs creating a dynamic which makes it more profitable for them to do so. Would I move across the city or county line if incentivized to do so? Yes, yes I would if I was in the business of ending a year with a profit. Incentivizing automation eases the workforce challenges when it comes down to the bottom line of having enough people to fill positions. It contributes to stabilizing communities.

By continually adding everyone under the sun into the workforce discussion and/or program planning the only outcome you are on the path to is progress at a pace that is detrimental to manufacturing. More action, less meetings, more smart conversations, less of talking things into the ground and then burying them with endless paperwork.

Automation In Rural Manufacturing & Why It Should Be Incentivized

There are plenty of debates over automation in manufacturing. More often than not part of an automation debate includes automation vs. jobs. Automation is a complicated issue with multiple layers, but for this post, let’s focus on the’ jobs will be lost if automation comes’ myth in rural communities. That’s right “myth”. Let’s get this out of the way, jobs will not be lost, jobs will change.  automation

On January 24 this year Marketwatch had an article based on a Brookings Institute study. The Marketwatch item had the super sexy title, “Over 30 million U.S. workers will lose their jobs because of AI”, big stuff. The article went on to say “…“high exposure” to automation — meaning at least 70 percent of their tasks could soon be performed by machines using current technology. Among those most likely to be affected are cooks, waiters and others in food services; short-haul truck drivers; and clerical office workers.”

On January 25, 2019 CNBC had a piece based on that same Brooking study and CNBC titled it a semi-sexy, “Automation threatening 25% of jobs in the US, especially the ‘boring and repetitive’ ones: Brookings study,” less sexy, but still disturbing if you are cruising through life with only enough time to catch headlines as many of us are.

The two articles above are great examples of why the word “automation” can send fear into the workplace and leave workers feeling insecure. But here is the thing, automation in rural manufacturing is what will save many rural communities. Subsequently, anyone in the market of incentivizing via economic development needs to get on board with offering incentives to manufacturers who are automating, and quit tying incentives to job creation only.

Rural communities continue to see a decline in population. There is no indication that this trend will stop, it may slow, and occasionally adjust a bit, but overall rural economic and community development need to engage in clear conversations regarding doing as much and/or more with less people. This applies to rural manufacturers as well, many who already feel the workforce shortage pain, subsequently the need for automation. Failure to support the growth of automation within rural communities will, not might, but will result in rural manufacturers eventually having to pack up and leave due to a lack of workforce.

The current rural workforce reality has shifted from a dollars per job created equation, to a dollars per job retained and/or dollars that will remain within the community based on supporting, and stabilizing manufacturing growth. Unfortunately most States have not shifted away from the dynamic of only incentivizing ‘per job.’ And realistically rural communities will have limited capacity to do so themselves on a large scale.

So the bottom line, automation is necessary in rural communities if they are to survive. And when you look at employment opportunities vs. available workforce in the majority of these communities it is clear automation will not take jobs, it will change the type of jobs to a higher technical level, and/or assist in smoothing processes where a lack of employees exist. Not assisting manufacturers in automation will result in not just jobs lost in rural areas, but companies lost.

#1 Workforce Attraction Resource in Manufacturing

social media.jpgThe number one workforce attraction resource isn’t money, although money is up there, it is social media.  If you don’t have a social media recruiting strategy, you are spending more time and money then you need to in recruiting.  Stop using your words and burning your time. Connect to potential new employees by meeting them where they are via social media.

  1. People relate to those they see as having commonality with themselves.  Have a current employee in a gorilla marketing video for your manufacturing facility and post it.  Not only will you see organic sharing of it, the shares will be right to your target audience.
  2. Management vs. Workers.  Human nature propels a very us vs. them dynamic be it in sports, school rivalry, politics, management vs. workers, etc.  Who is doing your outreach, is it someone your target audience will work alongside with, or answer to?  Connecting to someone that you’ll work alongside presents a potentially higher level of trust. BIG difference in seeing a picture of a supervisor vs. a picture of a group of co-workers on Instagram.
  3. Quit saying and/or writing things like ‘it’s not your grandfather’s factory,’ no matter what age of worker you are trying to attract.  Why?  Because when you do so you’ve automatically planted ‘the past’ into prospects minds.  You’ve also planted the idea that there was something wrong when a prior generation did the work.  Both reference points are negative.  Pictures/videos through social media will automatically convey the setting you are looking to engage others in.  Let the pictures/video do the work for you.

In Demand Jobs Week Vs In Demand Employee

omjstencil-300x300This week is “In Demand Jobs Week” with all kinds of workforce activities going on.  What is an “in demand” job?  That probably depends on where you are located.  Regardless of the job, this week also merits reminding those who are looking for employment, as well as those hiring, that the employee is the one “in demand.”  

No matter how a job is marketed, it comes down to is the employee the right fit.  Recently while doing mock interviews at an area high school I was asked for what is the best advice I’d give to someone preparing to interview.  It is as follows, be authentic, be yourself.  The level of disengaged employees is over 70%, a number that should concern employers and job seekers.  That level of disengagement is a clear statement in our focus on jobs rather than the people we need to fill them.

Job seekers, be yourself and you’ll land in an organizational culture that fits you. Employers, is your organizational culture one that fits the employees you are trying to attract?

Quit Treating Economic Development Like A Game Show

Economic development projects are not something you win.  Economic development projects are something you first have a community plan for, along with collaboration and engagement with community partners, and then when an opportunity rises you have the economic intelligence to go after what fits your community culture and future, and pass on what does not.

Are you in your community sweet spot for smart growth and quality of life or are you just playing “Let’s Make A Deal”? Here are some indicators…

If your community has never passed on a “lead” your community is doing it wrong.

If you have no policy on what merits incentives and what does not, you are planning to fail.

If leadership is offering incentives as a “free gift with purchase” without running a formula on what the actual company need is, you are wasting taxpayer dollars.

Incentives are great, as is economic development; however, the propensity of human beings to win at all costs is what mucks things up.  And there is your loop back to economic development needing economic intelligence.  Freewheeling a deal is basically putting your taxpayers in second place and some strangers with either real, or possibly magic beans in the number one slot.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings out there that once housed projects communities fought for and incentivized, such as these three in Ohio.  None of us are surprised there are no politicians and glory grabbers standing at this end of the deal.

 

Economic Intelligence, A Must

Without economic intelligence your economic development efforts are basically just bribing companies to come to your community, often at the cost of the community itself.  What is economic intelligence?  It is knowing parameters, trends, competition, community cost per dollar, and community keys involving the greater good over the human propensity to win at all cost.

Economic intelligence in economic development is what makes economic development ethical, rather than a glory grabbing, win at all cost, race to the bottom.  Corporate is great, but putting corporate over the community you are representing is not.

'Remember, it's not a lie if it makes us money.'

Economic Development Incentive Policy

tax incentivesTax incentive policy is missing in most community governments.  This seems at odds with most community governments being pro-economic development.  How can you define what type of project merits a tax incentive if there are no guidelines?  How do you justify to the tax payers picking up the tab if you believe an incentive was warranted?  Obviously, you don’t and you can’t.

I’ve done economic development deals in multiple States with varying sizes of governments, and what continues to surprise me it the question, “should we give more?”  While the question is a valid question, it underlines the need to set a definition of what projects merit incentives, and which do not.  Otherwise how do you justify governance and equity in the distribution of tax dollars?

Tax incentives have been around for decades, so why haven’t more communities defined parameters to gauge project worth more often?  Perhaps the answer is partially within the dynamic of getting “a win”, rather than defining what a true community “win” looks like.

Economic Development, Good or Bad

It always intrigues me in my travels the various defentitions of what economic development actually is. It varies throughout the U.S., State to State, and at times within a State  County, and/or City.  There seems to be a lack of clarity if using the words economic development will result in a positive or negative response within a discussion. One moment you are reading about economic development backlash in Florida, and the next throwing incentives at an Amazon deal is in fashion.

Clarity in defining economic development is difficult due to the culture of economic development entities varying so widely.  Subsequently, this post is an intro to numerous posts within a series of economic development related issues and items.  A great deal of the upcoming posts will be via guest bloggers to provide a wide swath of input and reflection.  My hope is you find something of value within this series that will assist you along your career journey.