The Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas discussed businesses draws and workforce when RDA President Kent Heermann brought the subject up at Friday’s monthly meeting.
He said tax credits and incentives tied to job creation are less of a draw for companies than cash incentives. Tax abatements equate to cash, Heermann said.
“Business needs to evolve,” he said. “Sometimes upgrade of technology, sometimes you have new technology introduced in a business, you actually have reduction in workforce for that very purpose. But, at the end of the day, those workers that are there are higher skilled, higher trained and higher paid.”
According to Heermann, high-tech manufacturing is on the rise in the U.S. with more advanced manufacturers returning from overseas.
To draw such companies, he said, cities must offer the workforce and talent a business needs.
“Businesses will go to sites that have the talent, even if it costs more,” Heermann said.
He said “there are pockets of unemployment” around the country. The workforce may change shape as children who are in school now enter it and older people retire.
President of Flint Hills Technical College Dean Hollenbeck said he expected to see many retirements from the workforce in the Midwest. He believed businesses would continue struggling to find workers.
Locally, small businesses and government agencies have trouble finding talent.
Rural areas and cities the size of Emporia have different qualities to offer potential employers than more urban areas. Many businesses gravitate to urban areas.
The subject of immigration came up during this discussion because immigrants often form a portion of the workforce.
“There seems to be an unwillingness to have a discussion on (immigration),” Heermann said. “It seems to be two sides that are polarized and draw the line in the sand.”
Heermann cited California’s immigration policy, which flaunts current federal policies and, he said, puts companies in a bad position.
“What’s driving it is labor,” he said.
Casey Woods talked about businesses employing international students from Emporia State University, only to lose them when they’re forced to leave because they can’t get a visa.
“We’ve got great people from ESU that are international students who can work for a year after their graduation,” he said. “But then, after that, if they don’t literally win the lottery, they can’t stay.”
Woods said this is common.
“I think there’s a lot people that have indicated that they would like to stay, but there’s no pathway for them to do so,” he said. “And there’s a lot of companies that would like them to stay.”
Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman was a dissenting voice, saying he felt skilled immigrants had no problem with the immigration process.
“My son-in-law has had no problem with ICE or immigration,” he said. “He went through it legally, he went through it the way he was supposed to. He was done in 10 months. Travels internationally, the only thing he can’t do yet is carry a handgun. The counter to that is, he’s really skilled. But not for anything around here. There’s nothing to offer him here.”