What a wacky world we live in. Six-years-ago, Iredell County was struggling with a near double digit unemployment rate, trying hard to survive. If a business announced they were hiring five people, we considered celebrating with a parade. Today, there are very few businesses that are not looking, in some cases with desperation, for employees. On April 30th, the unemployment rate in Iredell County was 3.9%. The good news/bad news truth is that as of June 30, 2017, there were 3,800+ jobs available in Iredell County through the NC Works web platform, yet there were only 3,300+ people who were unemployed and looking. Unfortunately, NC Works does not compute the jobs that are expected to grow in the next year. In the Statesville area alone, we would expect another 1,000 jobs to become available by this time next year.
There is little question that the anchor keeping us from reaching our economic potential is the ability to find a workforce that can meet the needs of our businesses. Many employers have narrowed their wish list of potential employee skill sets down to two: show up reliably and pass a drug test. A local HR director noted, “We can teach everything someone needs to know about operating our equipment, we simply need to know they will be here to work.” Open and announced positions pay from $10 an hour to well over six figure salaries.
There are two facets to attacking this issue. One area of focus is workforce development or preparing the local populace—those either currently looking for employment or those who will be seeking work—to build skills that would enable them to find success. There are many organizations that are spending time and effort on workforce development. Mitchell Community College does an extraordinary job in providing exceptional training programs for potential employees. Their new NC Manufacturing Institute provides state of the art advanced manufacturing training. There is scholarship money available to attend this two-month program and quality employment following successful completion is nearly guaranteed.
Another focus must be devoted to attracting people to consider Statesville and Iredell County as a great place to live, work and play. We MUST create innovative and creative ways to market this community to attract new residents. We have begun an aggressive social media marketing campaign that showcases young people talking about our education system, recreation opportunities, and how much our community has changed in the past few years. The next step will include shorter videos that detail specific job availability and quality of life assets. We are competing with all of our neighbor counties, all with similar employment needs. Our challenge is to be creative, unique, and authentic. We are hard at work building this community’s image every hour of every day.
When we, the greater Statesville community, look into the mirror, it is a dramatically different reflection than we saw five years ago. Our challenge must be to imagine what we want to look like five years from now and start working to get there. Finding employees to embrace our beautiful community for working, living, and playing appears to be Job #1.