GOSHEN – Are you hoping to attract more workers to your community? If so, you need to improve your quality of life offerings first.
That was the main takeaway from a special presentation by economists Michael Hicks and David Terrell held Wednesday night at the Goshen Theater in downtown Goshen.
Hicks is professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. Terrell is the executive director of the Indiana Communities Institute at Ball State and the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Center for Local and State Policy.
The two economists, who were invited to address a meeting of members of Goshen City Council and the Goshen Redevelopment Commission, discussed how nationwide economic development policies are increasingly shifting more emphasis from recruiting industry towards recruiting talent, with a focus on how improving quality of life offerings can determine how competitive communities like Goshen will be in the future .
According to Terrell, when most communities talk about economic development these days, the crux of the matter always seems to start with the phrase “We need jobs.” Yet the real question, he said, is “how” do we bring these jobs to our communities.
“A lot of people will say, ‘We need more jobs because that will increase our population,” Terrell said. “This is number one. In our mind, job growth equals growth in population.
However, he noted that current data shows that belief is simply not the case for most communities.
“The first thing we need to understand is that job growth does not equal population growth,” Terrell said. “In fact, jobs follow people. People live where they want to live. Jobs follow people. We have to understand this.
In addition, he noted that the traditional model of economic development has generally relied on things like trying to attract or attract investment and jobs with things like tax incentives, and trying to attract workers. with the promise of a higher salary, etc. The mindset prevents many communities from achieving their economic development goals, he said.
Instead, the best tactic would be for communities to focus on things like improving housing options and availability, working to develop and train an educated workforce, and emphasizing on creating and expanding the amenities and quality of life offerings that will eventually attract people. , and new businesses, and higher wages, in our communities, he explained.
“Change has happened,” Terrell said, referring to the changing economies and demographics that have occurred in most communities since the development of the traditional economic development model. “Our basic understanding and the model that we traditionally use has simply not changed to accommodate the realities of our communities.
Speaking specifically to communities like Goshen, which have a very high percentage of manufacturing jobs, Hicks noted that although employment growth in the city’s manufacturing sector has been phenomenal recently, supported largely by the burgeoning RV industry, he warned that as we look to the future, these jobs will be increasingly vulnerable to things like automation – a reality to which, he said. he said, the community needs to prepare now.
“Automation backwards affects the higher income groups very little,” Hicks said. “It is low-income workers who are at the greatest risk of having their work automated, in part because higher-income workers are much more likely to have skills that allow them to adapt to new technology and create their new job. “
In that sense, he noted that current data shows that between 60 and 67% of current jobs in Elkhart County have the potential to be automated in the future.
“So automation and technology are going to kill a lot of jobs,” Hicks said. “In this county, any place that has a lot of manufacturing, and a high manufacturing share, is at certain risk. But it also cuts across all kinds of other technologies that apply to services and elsewhere.
“Does that mean it’s going to happen right away?” No, “he added.” But the risk is real. And when people say, ‘I know, but we assemble motorhomes here, and the motorhomes are really customizable, and that’s really hard to make a robot that will do the customizable work there “, just remind you that we landed someone on the moon with robotics in 1969. It’s all about cost, not technology, and a once the cost of doing this is lower than the cost of hiring, healthcare and managing absenteeism, it will become automated. It’s a ticking time bomb. “
So, faced with the need to attract more workers, preferably highly skilled workers to help develop and diversify his community, Terrell again stressed the importance of realizing that jobs follow people, not the other way around, and that more and more people choose where to live based on the quality of life offerings available in a community.
“I want to reinforce what Mike said, that people might move to a state or region because of a job opportunity, but they’re going to choose your community for those qualities,” Terrell said. “This is the challenge that each of our communities has is to attract and keep this population. “
“High quality places of life are job attractors,” Hicks said. “A place of poor quality of life is a deflector of employment. So if you want to attract people and jobs, it’s really the quality of life that drives it, this complex idea that people choose a place to live because they love it, and that the challenge for communities. is what it is they like. “
This realization, Terrell said, has in turn led to a new approach to economic development that he and Hicks call “community economic development,” which uses a more place and people-centered model as its foundation.
“We’re not saying don’t do incentives,” Terrell said. “We say you have to have the right conversations about resource allocation in the community and where those investments should be. … At the end of the day, people want great places.