Work force quality, availability concerns prompt economic developers’ discussion
With the start of a new year around the corner, the Leavenworth County Development Corporation is focusing on existing industry expansion and work force improvement.
At an industry report meeting Tuesday, LCDC economic development coordinator Victoria Rowley provided those in attendance with a summary of the organization’s efforts from October 2008 to December 2009 and gave them a glimpse of 2010.
Throughout the year, Rowley has been communicating with 85 businesses in Leavenworth County to gather information about these businesses’ characteristics, reactions to the economy and thoughts about the county.
“It’s really been a relationship building year for me,” Rowley said. “It’s been about talking to businesses, visiting businesses, earning their trust. It’s important to meet with as many people in the community as we can and get as much information as we can, but we’re also trying to assist these businesses in any way we can.”
The majority of the companies LCDC met with were small, privately-owned businesses with less than 50 employees, Rowley said, with the majority being manufacturing or finance and insurance companies.
Despite the tough economy, 75 percent of these companies reported stable or increasing sales throughout 2008, Rowley said.
“Based on the economy, these are good numbers,” she said.
In 2008, 20 of the businesses expanded, 66 employees were added and six companies reported $6,676,532 in capital investment, mostly for facility expansion. However, Rowley said, 174 jobs were eliminated.
Of the 85 businesses’ markets, 49 percent are local, 16 percent are national, and 11 percent are international. Rowley said the presence of exportation was quite beneficial to Leavenworth County.
“We don’t have a lot of manufacturing businesses in Leavenworth County, but the ones we have, it’s great to see they’re exporting,” she said. “It’s great for us as a community because we’re capturing those dollars from outside the county and bringing them in.”
One of the purposes for Rowley’s meetings with these companies was to get a feel for the employers’ and employees’ perceptions of conducting business in Leavenworth County.
“This knowledge is very valuable for us because it’s something we can take directly from our businesses,” Rowley said.
Rowley found many businesses saw the county’s location, school districts, customer base and available land as strengths. Some of the county’s reported weaknesses included lack of planning and zoning, lack of retail, high property taxes and poor road conditions.
Each of the businesses also rated the county’s work force availability and work force quality on a scale of 1 to 5. From this exercise, Rowley concluded the companies reported a 3.95 average on availability and a 3.64 average on quality.
“What concerns me about this is the quality rating for manufacturing companies and defense (and information technology) companies,” Rowley said. “These companies are where it’s at. Those are growing businesses, and they bring lots of money into the community. They’re saying they have lots of people coming in, lots of applicants, but the quality of the work force is not so high.”
This concern has prompted one of LCDC’s goals for 2010: improving the work force in the county.
“We’re going to be working on educating people who are already in the county and bringing in new people,” Rowley said.
In addition, Rowley said LCDC would be setting its sights on expanding such manufacturing and information technology companies and providing existing businesses with details on assistance programs because that was key in making the county a growing success.
“In the next year, I really, really want to stress the importance of assistance programs that are out there,” Rowley said. “We will continue gathering information and sharing resources. This has been exciting for us, and like I’ve said, knowledge is power.”