Consultant recommends regional work force summit

Rick Wagner • Apr 26, 2007 at 10:27 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - A regional work force summit designed to help an economic "turnaround" may be in the region's future.

A 10-county region of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia has reached a "critical point" in its work force, according to an analysis commissioned by the Regional Alliance for Economic Development and recommending the summit.

"The region is at a critical point due to the changing job market, tight job knowledge, technical skill availability, aging population and (the) losing (of) young work force, borderline basic skills, and schools and employers (that) are not engaged," states a summary conclusion released late Thursday afternoon.

A "concerted turnaround is needed in areas of industrial diversification, creating environment to keep/attract the young, engage employers and educators in work force issues, tap into the hidden labor force, and (show that) conditions contrast with statistics."

The recommended regional work force round- table or summit would use the analysis for regional planning and visioning.

The analysis is of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties in Tennessee and Scott and Washington counties in Virginia.

The Wadley-Donovan Group of Springfield, N.J., and Younger Associates of Jackson, Tenn., conducted the analysis.

"Work force skills and availability are critical factors for businesses selecting a location for a new facility or expansion," Andy Burke, president and chief executive officer of the alliance created to market the region, said in the news release. "To create quality job opportunities and to meet the needs of industry, communities must understand and address the work force issues."

Primary data of the study included employer and household interviews with 78 employer responses, an 18 percent response rate, and more than 1,200 resident responses. It also used secondary information.

Identified assets include access and location; a work ethic; productivity; employee attitudes; team skills; ability to recruit outside talent; satisfactory-to-good computer skills; available labor in selected categories including general business and office support, computer operators, accountants, forklift operators, laborers, truck drivers, machine operators and welders; high labor elasticity; balanced labor supply and demand; low-to-moderate private-sector earnings; area colleges and universities; relatively low cost of living; and low crime.

"When we combine the work ethic with systems to educate and train, the number of higher education facilities combined with the cost of living and wages and no traffic and natural resources plus our excellent health care, we have a powerful message," said Larry Nunley, president and founder of AccuForce Staffing Services and alliance board member.

Challenges include slow population and labor force growth; decline in ages 18-34; modest to low education levels; an aging population; and a lack of mid- to high-level medical, technical and other professionals.

The analysis recommended:

•Countering the statistics through the alliance's new Web site, www.alliancetnva.com, and its regional data on demographics and labor, as well as sites on available buildings and quality of life and an aggressive national print media campaign, brochures and a video promoting the region.

•Supporting existing manufacturing while helping diversify the economy through regional partners, merging clusters analysis and work force analysis groups; keep members in a national site selection network; have an aggressive site location consultant initiative; and continue work on attracting a customer contact center, data center, research institute, technology park, ethanol research, pharmaceuticals research and development, and manufacturing.

•Engaging educators and employers by convening a regional work force roundtable or summit, working with colleges and university through the MountainSouth World Trade Center, continuing work with East Tennessee State University on the Higher Education Presidents Council, and collaborate with existing regional and community programs.

•Urging basic skills program for adults that are employer based by presenting "best practices" at the regional summit such as Northeast State Technical Community College's Eastman Chemical Co. apprenticeship program and others, the Tennessee FastTrack Job Training assistance in Tennessee, and the Virginia Workforce Services.

•Forming a strong regional work force development program with the existing Workforce Investment Board.

Other recommendations are to promote a greater role of private-sector cooperation in work force training, such as the Wellmont Health System/King College nursing program, ETSU's nursing and pharmacy schools, and Milligan College's occupational therapy degree; provide job counseling to retiring workers; help employees working with the retired; and work to retain and attract younger residents through job opportunities and quality of life.

For more information, visit www.alliancetnva.com.

Recommended for You