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Region’s Job Outlook Demands an Increase in the Supply of Workers

We need more people singing “Sweet Home Alabama!”

That is the overarching conclusion from the North Alabama Region Labor Market Analysis commissioned by Huntsville’s Launch 2035, the strategic regional partnership between business and elected officials in Limestone, Madison, and Morgan counties.

How many more people?

How about some 25,000 new jobs to be filled by 2023?

To answer that challenge, Launch 2035 is rethinking and re-imagining North Alabama’s regional economy over the next 20 years.

Conducted by Deloitte, the assessment had six objectives: provide a snapshot of the overall supply and demand of the North Alabama labor market; identify and assess talent and potential talent/skills demand and trends; capture insights from regional employers concerning the skill sets they will need; secure guidance concerning growth projections by worker type and skill sets; provide Launch 2035 with an understanding of the perceived quality of the workforce pipeline supplied by the region’s higher education; and provide examples of strategies to address anticipated labor shortages.

While North Alabama’s unemployment rate stands at 2.6 percent compared to the national rate of 3.7 percent, the study showed that there won’t be enough workers to fill those jobs that are on the horizon.

The region has seen $6.7 billion in capital investment over the past five years and added 14,000 jobs. Huntsville’s Metropolitan Statistical Area has the highest concentration of engineering talent; and the regional GDP increased 4.9 percent versus the national GDP growth of 3.1 percent.

North Alabama is a leader in innovation and has the highest concentration of advanced research and development capabilities in the region. The quality of life and booming economy are among the best in the nation and due to the large federal presence and ecosystem of federal contractors in North Alabama, the area can weather a recession more favorably than other communities.

The key findings of the report however, come down to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.

In fact, according to the findings, jobs will outpace the work force in key skill areas, specifically in the areas of cyber, IT, engineering and production.

The need for talent is rapidly evolving, however, despite such training programs as Toyota’s Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education program, there are not enough of these types of programs to keep up with the need.

The organic job pipeline is slowly improving as graduates from two-year programs are finding alternatives to four-year colleges; but a tight labor market has led to “poaching” the most in-demand talent using the allure of higher wages.

While millennials value non-wage related benefits more than past workers, North Alabama has not yet reached its potential in attracting national talent, and must address housing needs in order to support and stimulate the needed increase in inbound migration to North Alabama.

According to Claire Aiello, vice president of marketing and communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce, seeing is believing.

Chamber CEO/President Chip Cherry: “Recruitment is an ongoing exercise”

“Once people get here, they are sold,” she said. “They see how affordable it is, how beautiful it is, the warm climate, an easy commute in and out of the city, the people are friendly.

“Companies admit that even if they get resistance from potential recruits who don’t know anything about Alabama, once they get here – they get it. They understand.”

Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Chamber, said leaders from the three counties are working on a long-term strategy to address ways to increase awareness about what a desirable region this is for potential workers from other parts of the country.

“There have been myriad things happening for a while,” Cherry said. “When we did the evaluation and economic impact model for Polaris and some others, we pulled down the area by ZIP code for that particular model and that site, and we were within a half a percent of where our projections were for the number of people from Morgan County who will come over and work at that site.

“So, we have some pretty good models … and recruitment is an ongoing exercise. In Huntsville, about 60 percent of our portfolio is existing companies considering expansion, so we will continue to work with those companies to help them grow.

“The challenge is making sure we secure the labor workforce from other parts of the country, to bring them here so we can continue that growth going forward.”

That challenge – to bring the three counties together to create a strategy for long-term success is being spearheaded by Launch 2035. In the coming weeks and months, they will be coordinating among the Chambers of Commerce, business leaders and city officials from the three-county area to develop an economic and image strategy that addresses these problems.

“We are them. They are us,” said Cherry about Launch 2035. “At the end of the day, we want to create a perception of what can happen in North Alabama, and to find a way to effectively communicate that to people who don’t know anything about how dynamic our region is.”