By Jim Siplon
It is certainly not news to say that the last two years of COVID have reshaped our area economy and the work we do to support it.
One of the often acknowledged aspects of the COVID era is the observation that the pandemic often exposed and accelerated shifts that were already underway but perhaps not yet fully understood. Our economy and its dynamic elements , things like an aging workforce and a lack of new housing, are perhaps the greatest example of this. Constructing the framework that will underpin the post-COVID economy requires us all to lean into this together-to understand and retool around the “Economy of Now.”
EDC Warren County has long been focused on the strategic work required to attracting, growing and retaining business for our community. Classically, this was a process built around enticing new business to locate here and utilize our workforce to run them. Our programs, incentives and resources were deployed primarily in ways designed to capture transitory or relocating business ventures.
While that work continues, it is transitioning before our eyes to a model that flips the traditional approach on its head. We are now in a competition for workforce, and those areas that have it will attract and grow the most successful business and economic entities while those that do not will struggle to build a sustainable economy.
This need for workforce is not new, in fact it has been building slowly in the demographics for years. Baby boomers are aging out, birth rates have declined and flight of our young has been going on for some time. But today this problem is not limited to the North Country or other less populated areas but is now almost universal.
A recent piece from the Washington Post said “the pool of potential workers has shrunk so much that getting back to the number of people employed before the pandemic would require unprecedented success in connecting job seekers and employers. Assuming more people don’t start looking for work, it would require an unemployment rate of 2 percent, lower than at any point since the measurement began in 1948.”
So how do we address such a disconnect?
Simply working harder to recruit more businesses to locate here, or even those already here to grow, is not the answer if there are not enough workers to fuel that opportunity. Maximizing our regions workforce participation has never been more important. Increasingly another opportunity is shifting to mobile professionals that can live, and now work remotely, almost anywhere.
For the past year, the EDC and its many partners in the business and larger community have been stepping into this shift in an effort to understand and be visible to a new wave of professional relocation.
The things needed for someone looking to locate somewhere new and bring their job with them are the same things we all need. It starts with a place to live and a broadband connection.
You can see this shift in the real estate market all around us. The Glens Falls MSA saw the ninth greatest rise in home prices in the U.S. during 2021. The EDC has developed a private-public partnership of sorts to dive into housing across the market from affordable to workforce to new formats to urban mixed use and work on the elements that will drive investment and expansion.
This will be an area of intense work for the coming year for not only the EDC but for all who have an interest in filling the thousands of open positions in the local economy.
We need to help our entire region invest their economic development efforts around ideas and businesses that build on our unique assets and will not be at odds with the realities of an economy that is largely in the Adirondack Park. These ideas helped fuel a recent effort by the timber and paper industries who invested in reducing the carbon footprint of the existing entities while developing regional applications for fiber that would reduce plastics and shorten carbon intense supply chains.
Another idea in development is investing in fresh water management and protection. This is built around regional efforts such as the Fresh Water Institute and the Jefferson Project on Lake George. Imagine the future with a thriving ecosystem that can show the region, country and world how to implement fresh water preservation practices birthed here.
We all know now that we must find ways to accept and adapt to the major shifts the last few years have exposed in our communities and regional economy. The EDC is digging in with its weekly forums, regular community engagement events and intense focus on the new challenges of professional relocation, placemaking, housing development and broadband advocacy along with traditional business support.
We believe we can manage this period of transformation together and look forward to partnering with all who are ready to join us in stepping in to the Economy of Now.