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Impact of County’s shrinking labor pool

April 18, 2019 05:15 am

To the editor:

One might think that Columbia County’s 2.9 percent unemployment rate is something to crow about, but, in reality, that figure is the canary in the coal mine, reflective of the county’s declining population trend. The Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), the lead economic organization for Columbia County, is well aware of the impact and risk of this trend, which contrasts significantly with population trends in surrounding counties. The CEDC has shared data in its 2014-2024 projection for regional industry opportunity that shows that our strongest economic drivers--healthcare, agriculture/tourism, metal/wood fabrication, and construction — will not have enough workers to fill the jobs of the future.

At a special meeting on March 22, the CEDC sought input from the public on their 2019 Strategic Plan. A diverse audience of interested citizens, leaders of local non-profit organizations, representatives of local government, and CEDC members had a robust conversation about the proposed plan, identifying barriers to economic growth and quality of life that are threatening the current and future well-being of Columbia County. Key factors are poor infrastructure, including lack of broadband, affordable housing, workforce development, and transportation. There was discussion too about the needs of current workers who must cobble together multiple jobs to survive economically. A failure to address these issues will make it increasingly difficult for businesses to recruit and expand, harder for communities to grow, and will leave those of us left behind to cover the costs of government.

Population growth in the United States has hit its lowest level since 1937. The fact that immigrants continue to be drawn here is a reflection of the opportunity and freedom our country has to offer. America’s population density is one-third of the population density in the European Union and one-quarter of the density of China. Columbia County’s population of approximately 61,860 people spread over 648 square miles leaves us with lots of room to grow, but still able to maintain our rural character. When it comes to our economy, our future, and the well-being of our community, the President’s unfounded assertions that our country is too “full” flies in the face of reality, revealing themselves as racism and political red meat. We must focus far more attention and creative thinking about our local needs and issues, and find solutions that work for us.

Stephanie Sussman