A comprehensive labor study of Rogers County found good and bad news for the community, presented before a wide selection of community leaders and government officials Wednesday morning.
The Claremore Industrial and Economic Development Authority (CIEDA) hired Site Selection Group, headquartered in Dallas, to do a laborshed study for Rogers County and Claremore.
Site Selection Group, the largest independent site selection company in the country, typically consults for corporations on finding the right location for a new branch, navigating the economic incentives offered by the new location and providing real estate services.
Site Selection Vice President Chris Schwinden said, “What we’re doing here is taking all of that corporate expertise, or what we trick you all into thinking is corporate expertise, and applying that corporate lense to help a community, a state, a region, try to get more competitive from that objective, corporate perspective.”
Schwinden began by summarizing the 100+ page report on the Rogers County labor market their organization compiled into four categories: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
According to the report, the county’s strengths are its existing production workforce; professional draw from the Tulsa metro area; strong rural pull; educational institutional presence in the form of a strong high schools, technical schools and RSU; attractive community; industrial site readiness; and professional economic development organizations.
The weaknesses of Rogers County are the significant workforce demand; educational program completions; pulling production talent out of Tulsa; outflow of resident workers; and base demographic trends.
“I was going to put significant workforce demand as all five bullets here,” Schwinden said. “You see it in the data. There is just a lot of demand for direct labor and production skill.”
Schwinden said the county has opportunities to further collaboration and enhancement of workforce development, diversify their economy, draw workforce from Tulsa and further community development and amenities.
However, the threats are the continued production and now distribution growth in Tulsa, the real and perceived concerns about k-12 education in Oklahoma and potential hiring competition that would cause Rogers County businesses to steal workers from each other instead of drawing in new talent.
Employer data shows that 91 percent of below average wage workers travel 40 minutes or less during their daily commute. Approximately 50-80 percent of workers in Rogers County travel between 20 and 40 minutes for work.
Interestingly, nearly 70 percent of those employed in Rogers County do not live in Rogers county and almost 80 percent of the people who live in Rogers County do not work in Rogers County.
Using that data, Schwinden said “The positive side of this is the labor dynamism. Folks are moving in and out of the county to work and live, which is good for a regional economy, but the challenge is a lot of folks are leaving here, so how do you better capture that work force to grow the economy here?”
Schwinden said that Rogers County has a presence and demand for production laborers in jobs like aerospace, metals, electronics and food and beverage production, but has a need for a strong worker pipeline and to ease the outflow of workers.
For maintenance and logistics jobs, Rogers County has a strong presence and concentration but with the potential and growing concern of distribution center ‘crowd out’.
Engineering jobs have a strong concentration and ability to draw talent from Tulsa.
Health Care jobs in Rogers County have moderate levels of presence and concentration and a growing pipeline of educational completions.
Comparing their findings with local employer testimony, Schwinden said that employers agree Rogers County is a ‘perfect’ location for manufacturing, that the county had a strong pull on professional talent from Tulsa and Owasso, that the county has strong work ethic, that the county has the ingredients for a strong educational pipeline and that their is a strong quality of life here.
Employers are worried about high competition, rising wages, work readiness of younger folks and creating a stronger pipeline for workers.
For employers worried about wage competition, especially with Amazon and Macy’s moving into the Tulsa Metro Area, Schwinden said smart employers know that they can offset wages with non-wage benefits.
“Good employers decide whether they are going to be top on pay or top on quality, and it’s good, in some sense, for the community, that businesses are going to be forced to compete in one way or another,” Schwinden said.
However, when it comes to getting to companies to choose Rogers County as their base of operations, Schwinden said, “communities are winning and losing on workforce development.”
To focus on the talent pipeline Schwinden said that employer engagement is important in schools as early as middle school and all the way through technical schools and universities.
“This is unique because you have the ingredients here to really grow and build that pipeline going forward,” Schwinden said. “We could talk for days about all the stuff that goes into that.”
He highlighted Georgia Quick Start, Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect as good examples of a workforce pipeline done right.
Schwinden ended the presentation with four strategic initiatives from Site Selection Group to state, county and city leaders.
Initiative 1 is to continue to expand the workforce pipeline through enhanced workforce competition, increased enrollment and completions, adult training and uplifting programs, targeted programs from employers, continued career exploration for students and integrating and leveraging RSU.
Initiative 2 is to expand employer’s workforce draw further into Tulsa.
Initiative 3 is to continue to make the community and quality of life case for Claremore.
And Initiative 4 is to further diversify the economic base of Claremore, while still remaining pragmatic on realistic targets and opportunities.
John Feary, Executive Director of CIEDA, asked at the end of the presentation, “Are we on the right track?”
“Very much so, yes,” Schwinden said.