Jan Rogers moved to Twin Falls in 1999 to help market the area to businesses. Working with city officials from several areas of the Magic Valley, Rogers, as executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization, presided over some big-name arrivals such as Clif Bar, Glanbia and Chobani that have added or will add thousands of jobs to the area.
Last fall, Rogers was hired to work the same magic in a 14-county region of eastern Idaho with REDI, the Regional Economic Development Corp. of eastern Idaho.
In 1999, company site selection was about things like tax rates, utilities, quality of life, and power costs. When prospective companies visited Twin Falls, they brought with them plant managers, CFOs, and CEOs to assess possible sites.
But nowadays, workforce is the No. 1 priority of site selectors. When companies come to see a prospective location, they now bring a VP of human resources with them. So in her new job, Rogers has the much trickier task of finding the skilled workers that companies look for when they choose a factory site.
That’s just one change of many that we’re seeing in Idaho as educators, local leaders, and economic development groups respond to employers’ call for more skilled workers. In Boise, businesses, foundations and even political leaders have come out in force to help educators strengthen STEM education programs and the community college classes that are essential to closing the skills gap. Boise Valley Economic Partnership is taking the workforce gap so seriously that this year it hired Charity Nelson, a human resources manager, away from Micron to develop and implement talent attraction programs.
Nelson is going to help Boise-area companies recruit the people they need. And she’s also trying to to help local businesses create internship programs. The best programs convert 70 to 80 percent of their interns into full-time hires, she said. BVEP is holding a free event June 29 for Boise-area businesses aimed at showing them how to set up internships.
Rogers, who started in Idaho Falls in the fall, is also hard at work developing a talent attraction strategy. Among other things, she plans to survey the skilled workers who did choose to work in Idaho Falls, finding out more about them in the hopes of seeing what her group can do to attract others.
It’s well-known that young workers between the ages of about 18 and 35 tend to choose to live in major cities, and Idaho doesn’t have one of those. But Rogers thinks she can find other ways of drawing workers to the area.
“If I understand the demographic here, I’ll have a better sense of strategy on how to attract them,” Rogers said. She doesn’t think the worker shortage has much to do with the traditionally low pay seen in Idaho. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think.”
Rogers has already closely studied research about what younger workers are looking for. She’s sure they’re not just motivated by the same things that drove the baby boomers.
“Apparently they don’t value money in the same way we did. They’re waiting longer to get married, to buy a house, buy a car,” she said. She’s pretty sure her focus groups will show something she already knows: that younger workers take quality of life very seriously.
“Folks are going to find a place they want to be, and live, and then say, ‘I wonder if there’s a job?’” she said. “Before, in our generation, if it was a cool job, you didn’t much think about where it was.”
Idaho is a great place to live. All kinds of efforts are underway to show people that. But getting skilled people to move here is way more complicated than having accessible outdoor activities, a low crime rate, easy traffic, and a low cost of living. While people do move to Idaho for the quality of life, research shows plenty are also moving out to get jobs – and higher pay – elsewhere. Attracting and retaining skilled workers is a complicated business.
“If there was a best practice out there right now in the U.S., everybody would be jumping on it like a tick on a dog,” said Rogers. “But there isn’t. I don’t know if we’re going to come up with the panacea, but we’re absolutely going to try.”