Recalibrate your economic development plan

Mark Lautman CEcD, Lautman Economic Architecture LLC


Understanding how many and what kinds of jobs a community expects to have in the future is predicate to any discussion about a workforce development. Unless you are one of the rare communities with a detailed and truly strategic economic base strategy, you are probably going to have to do much deeper economic base assessment and write a much more detailed strategic plan than you have before.

  • How many people will be living in the community in ten years?
  • How many will need jobs?
  • How many of the total jobs, needed in the future, will have to be economic base?
  • How many jobs in each industry sector?
  • What factor of production gaps must be cured before those new jobs can materialize?

Understanding the community’s workforce dynamics

Coming up with a methodology, for predicting and managing the future mix of qualified workers, could end up being considerably more difficult than predicting the future economy. We know even less about how workers make decisions to choose careers, jobs or communities to live. This makes developing proactive program approaches to growing, attracting and retaining qualified workers that much more daunting.

A quick look at the Community Workforce Demographics Map below reveals a complex mix of forces at work on the scale, nature and quality of a local labor market.

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The workforce planning process

A talent-attraction strategy needs to mirror the community’s job-creation strategy, or they are both likely to fail. In essence, you have to run two back-to-back strategic planning efforts: a jobs assessment and plan, followed by another for a workforce strategy.

Unlike the economic development planning process of iterating the number of jobs that must be created in each industry sector, a workforce strategy will fall out of deliberations focused on estimating how many qualified workers in what occupations in what industries will be needed to fully staff the economy that the community wants to have in the future.

How many extra workers will be needed for growth of the economy and to fill existing vacancies and leakage?  Estimating how many workers will be leaked from the local labor market from retirement, skill obsolescence, out-migration, disincentives to work, health and family issues is going to be a major focus of inquiry.

Finally, the process will have to focus on the sources of new talent: the local P-20 school system, training up mid-career-change candidates, recruiting talent from other communities and mining talent from the community’s underclass of hard-to-employ and chronically poor residents.

Raising economic, workforce and community development strategies from tactical to strategic isn’t going to be the major obstacle to finding a new business model. The obstacle will be convincing educators, workforce developers and social service providers to bend their priorities to satisfy the needs of corporate interests. Additionally, employers and economic developers will have to bend to the needs of the workforce and community-quality champions.