Jobs and more jobs — that’s the essence of economic development efforts.
Mark Lautman, author of “When the Boomers Bail: A Community Economic Survival Guide,” sees a growing need to focus not just on new jobs, but on having workers for those jobs.
“It used to be all we needed to do was create some jobs and things would get better,” he said. But as the economic recovery gains steam and baby boomers retire in greater numbers, Lautman sees a shortage of qualified workers that will create an increasingly intense competition among communities vying for workers.
“It’s counterintuitive right now when there are 13 million people out of work, but the problem really isn’t the unemployment rate. It’s do you have enough people available with the skills that the economy needs now? And that’s where we’re getting out of whack.”
Lautman will bring that message to Colorado Springs as a keynote speaker at this month’s Business of Aging Summit, presented by the Senior Resource Council and the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC.
Lautman is a founding director of the Community Economics Lab, a private, not-for-profit think tank in Albuquerque, N.M.; he also has a consulting business, Lautman Economic Architecture. In addition to his speech, Lautman will be part of a breakout session at the Business of Aging Summit looking at what Colorado Springs can do to attract and keep entrepreneurs and young professionals — an issue that has been a concern of economic development leaders and Springs Mayor Steve Bach.
A mountain view might help attract some workers to the area, Lautman said, but that’s not likely to be enough to keep them amid the competition caused by a labor-starved market.
“What things about Colorado Springs is driving people off that you want to keep?” Lautman asks. You find that out, he said, by doing exit interviews. Then figure out what things can be fixed and what can’t.
“We may be in the situation in a lot of places,” he said, “where if you can make a place that generates out of its school systems and universities its own talent that doesn’t want to move, that wants to live there, then the employers come to you.”
It’s not all about the younger workers, though; communities need to harness the aging population as well, Lautman said. There are going to be a lot of people “on the edge of the workforce,” he said — people in their 60s or 70s or even older who have needed skills and still want to work at least part time.
“Colorado Springs is getting more baby boomers moving in than anywhere else in the U.S.,” said Jenifer Furda, senior vice president of member services for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. That should be viewed as a positive, she said, both in terms of boomers as consumers and as a flexible workforce.
“Here’s this amazing wealth of talent, knowledge, energy,” Furda said.
Communities that adapt to the changing demographics, and that provide a quality of life that attracts and keeps workers, will be the ones that prosper, Lautman said.
“A lot of people are thinking this is going to go back to some sort of past normal. I think things have changed structurally.”