Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Some local businesses having a tough time finding skilled workers
By William Kincaid
Because Mercer County currently has the lowest unemployment rate in Ohio, some local business owners are having difficulty recruiting a skilled workforce, according to the Mercer County Retention and Expansion Task Force.
On Tuesday afternoon task force officials presented a crowd of business leaders and elected officials with the results of a 2007 survey on the local labor force.
"It's tough to find good people," Larry Stelzer, Mercer County economic development director and task force committee member, told the crowd at Romer's at Westlake, Celina.
Thirty local businesses were administered a survey and asked to identify problems that could impede growth and development.
"During this survey, more businesses than ever asked for information; 25 of the 30 businesses made a total of 46 requests," the report, which was compiled by the Center for Urban & Public Affairs of Wright State University, stated. "The businesses asked for incentive information, financing program information, foreign trade assistance, grant information and other miscellaneous requests."
According to the report, workforce issues in 2007 are more critical than previous surveys and are an area that the task force committee can directly address, as opposed to such external forces as skyrocketing crude oil prices and political infrastructure.
"When analyzing problems for professional and management positions, the most common problems are availability of labor force and labor is reluctant to relocate here," the report stated.
Wright State University-Lake Campus Dean James Sayer and campus Business Enterprise Center Director Julie Miller said the school will continue to meet the educational needs of both local residents and businesses, especially with the forthcoming $9 million expansion and renovation project at the campus.
The project includes the construction of a multipurpose center and state-of-the-art classrooms.
Sayer said the campus currently offers seven bachelor's degree programs, in addition to 13 associate degree programs and 50 other areas that can be completed at the main campus in Dayton. He also pointed out that the school officials are currently creating four new areas of study - engineering, criminal justice, nursing/allied health professions and computer science.
"Mercer County's business environment has changed dramatically in a short period of time," the report states. "In seven short years the unemployment rate dropped from the highest in the state to the lowest. This is good news for the county, but it does present new challenges for businesses."
The Ohio Governor's Regional Economic Development Director Jerry Good told the crowd that "it's just remarkable what this community's done," especially when looking back over a decade when Huffy and other businesses left the area.
Fewer businesses to expand:
A recent business retention and expansion survey indicated fewer local business owners are planning on renovating or expanding facilities or participating in international trade than those surveyed in 2002.
"I think some of the issues were a little bit on the cautious side," Mercer County Economic Development Director Larry Stelzer said about the results.
According to the survey results, seven of the 30 participating employers reported there are various barriers to renovation or expansion, such as funding, an inability to purchase adjacent land and infrastructure.
Also, when asked about problems associated with international trade, seven firms stated difficulties with shipping damage, foreign exchange rates and documentation.
The 2007 retention and expansion survey, led by the Mercer County Retention and Expansion Task Force, also indicated the following:
• Seven firms sell products to local customers, 13 firms sell products or services within Mercer County and 20 firms reported that at least half of their business is conducted outside of Ohio.
• Six firms have competitors within Mercer County, 11 firms have competitors abroad and 26 firms stated their major competitor is located in the U.S., but outside Ohio.
• Twenty-four of the firms said that less than 25 percent of their positions require an associate's degree. Also, 22 of the firms stated that less than 25 percent of their positions require a bachelor's degree.
• As of now, there are 4,307 full-time employees among the 30 surveyed companies.
• Thirteen companies expect to increase employment, while none plan to decrease and five firms do not plan to change their employment level (12 companies did not respond to the question).
• Fringe benefits were identified as the highest factor negatively affecting company profits, with government policies second and transportation costs third.
• Seventeen firms said technological innovations, such as new machinery, computer technology, better materials and energy efficiency may affect the company in the next five years.
• Twenty firms intend to make a major purchase of machinery and/or equipment within the next 24 months, which the report states is "another indicator of growth."
• Twenty-five firms reported that the well-being of Grand Lake is either very important or important to the community, while four were neutral and one stated that the well-being of the lake is not very important to the community.
- William Kincaid