Economic expert's view: 2014 will be about attracting talentEconomic news for our region has been good. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 2007.
By: Drew Digby, Duluth News Tribune
Economic news for our region has been good. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 2007.
Private-sector job growth has been steady since 2010. Many of the new jobs are good-paying jobs in health care, engineering and other professional sectors. And projections by the state of Minnesota show those key industries growing for quite some time. In addition, in just five years in Duluth, there has been a double-digit increase in the number of households with incomes of more than $50,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
But the high-skill economy also poses challenges. We need to do everything we can to develop, attract and retain the talent we need.
The economic news in 2014 will include the challenges of housing, job training, being more welcoming and finding ways to address inequality locally.
First off is the housing challenge. Many of the new, highly trained workers in engineering, aviation and health care are likely to cycle through Duluth for a few years and then move on to the next opportunity. That’s OK because they’ll be followed by another wave. But our problem is the dearth of quality but affordable
market-rate rentals. New construction is expensive and the finances don’t work very well for the middle of the market. Employers of all kinds report trouble recruiting top candidates because of the lack of quality rentals.
Duluth has a lot of
single-family homes that could use renovation, loving care and steady renters. We should make sure policies are in place to welcome families to use those homes and make sure the investment in the housing stock works well.
The second big challenge is job training. Right now there are more than 500 job openings in Duluth. But more than 90 percent of the jobs that pay a living wage require some kind of advanced, specialized training. We’re not alone in this challenge, but our success in engineering, aviation, advanced manufacturing, health care and education means our job market is even more skewed toward advanced education, certification and training than many other markets. In the long run, this trend will help us. For now, we need to double down on all forms of education and training to support the boom areas of our economy and to make sure everyone who wants to train for these jobs gets a chance to show what they can do.
Our biggest challenge comes from the need to be a welcoming community to support our economic goals. That need to be welcoming ranges from the need to support some of our new nerdy engineers as they negotiate our northern cultures to the need to be outwardly welcoming to the more racially diverse students our universities need to compete in the coming decade.
Declining enrollment is forcing the colleges to consider major cuts. And it’s not just that the number of potential college students is declining; it’s that our institutions are not as friendly as they could be to the next generation of college students who have far more diverse backgrounds of race and income than the bulk of the college students did just 10 years ago.
And we have to find ways to address the great wage gaps that have developed. In Duluth, the gap between those workers whose jobs leave them in poverty and those earning more than $50,000 a year is growing. Just this fall, new census statistics showed that in just the five years between 2007 and 2012, Duluth households that reported income between $25,000 and $50,000 dropped by 23 percent.
The growing disparities between those who are making it and those who are struggling are a national and international problem. But while there’s political gridlock at those levels, we can work locally to address this economic challenge by being the absolute best at supporting education and support services to help residents train for the new economy.
Developing, attracting and retaining talent is what the economy will be about in 2014.
Drew Digby is a policy analyst and a member of the Duluth Planning Commission. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.