What jobs will the future bring?
That was one question posed to the panel assembled for the economy session at the Future Forum in June.
"More high paying jobs are coming to this area than in the last 10 to 15 years," said Reggie Clow, owner of Clow Manufacturing in Merrifield. Clow noted low unemployment does its own work. "You are constantly adjusting wages because people are trying to steal your labor."
And a lack of employees will also do its own to slow area growth as expansion plans are untenable without staff.
In predictions for the future, Bob Hutton, Region 5, said there will be more service jobs. And Greg Bergman, WorkForce Center in Brainerd, said a lot will depend on the strength of the rural economy.
"We've seen tremendous services and retailing," Bergman said. "And we'll continue to see that. More people are going to be attracted."
Lynn Hunt, Hunt Technologies in Pequot Lakes, noted the hurdles ahead if the economy is going to remain strong. Finding enough employees continues as the labor shortage affects the entire state. Competition to attract workers who are willing to relocate or return to their roots is widespread. If the employees are going to be there, Hunt said the next challenge will be housing needs and then health care.
"If we look ahead 10 or 12 years, I know there is a gap of 30,000 between the jobs that are there and the employees," Hunt said. "Where are those people going to come from."
While many of the jobs may be the same, Tom Lutz, Cass County Economic Development, said the skills needed to do those jobs has changed dramatically.
"How we are going to prepare for that is the key issue," Lutz said. "We need to improve training."
Tapping the expertise of retirees, who are interested in contributing, in the area is one suggested option to help with the business needs for workers. Hunt Technologies is one of the companies that benefited from recruitment of talented individuals of an older age.
"They are a valuable resource," Hunt said of retirees.
Lutz noted baby boomers tend to work well past traditional retirement ages. "Increasingly there are younger, I would call them pre-retirees relying on telecommunications," Lutz said.
Another suggestion is a better understanding of where the workers currently come from. Panel members said it was not uncommon for people to commute 30 minutes to work each day within the lakes communities.
John Pierron, owner of Hay Lake Lodge in Pequot Lakes, said there is a definite potential for long-term planning. Industrial parks are competing with five and 10-acre lots for cottage industries in the area, Pierron said.
While businesses and comprehensive planning are needed to help define commercial and industrial corridors, other advances are changing the way business will operate in the 21st century.
Carol Russell, Russell and Herder Advertising and Public Relations in Brainerd, said technology is opening telecommuting opportunities. Workers will have more flexibility in where they locate.
But making the area more attractive to workers may involve aspects of community some may not think of at first. Hunt said the state has a good school to work program. But she said another option to bring in a larger work force is looking at culture. The future of the lakes area, as with most of the state, is more multicultural and ethnically diverse than its past may have reflected. How well people of color are accepted into the region is a serious and obvious consideration when individuals are making relocation decisions.
In the worker shortage environment, businesses are finding that offering support services and getting involved with early recruitment of young people is a necessity for future growth. Child care remains a strong issue as companies consider adding the service in house. That in turn is creating its own demand for day care that covers shift work and workers who do not have traditional day jobs.
The conflict of continuing to grow and the side effects of that need, such as more four-lane highways to move workers to a fro and the collateral alteration of area lifestyles was not lost on the panel. Pierron noted the lake area needs to look at a grand vision and what kind of community is desired from resort destination to premiere high tech region.
Hunt said the only reason they started the business was to be home with the children and then the only reason they departed their Brainerd location was because of the zoning. Lutz noted where development will go and what type is allowed are daily questions.
"It's a tough, tough issue and I don't think we are anywhere close to coming to a consensus," Lutz said, asking what was in the common interest here "in terms of what's good for us and what's good for those 20 years from now. That's the challenge we have not come anywhere close enough to deal with."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.