Warrensburg – Nine primary employers interviewed by Business Retention and Expansion Task Force members over the summer rated too few skilled workers as the major weakness in the county.

The Economic Development Corp. board received a statistical analysis of interview results from Executive Director Tracy Brantner.

Brantner said the survey revealed about the same results as the 2016 survey.

“It does look like things are improving in the workforce arena,” she said.

Some businesses possibly have reached maximum employment capacity and “achieved what they said they were going to do in 2016,” Brantner said. But others cited a lack of workers in categories, including skilled and unskilled production, science and engineering, management, marketing, sales, administrative and clerical.

Six of the nine businesses said the number of unfilled jobs in their companies is rising, compared to nine that said they had recruiting problems last year. Five companies indicated they have problems recruiting. All nine businesses said they plan to expand in the next three years.

The board set a goal of interviewing 14 major employers this spring and summer. Brantner said consultant Janet Ady will complete interviews during a two-day visit in December in conjunction with developing a countywide economic development strategic plan.

Ady will consider the whole labor basin, Brantner said, what works, and where changes can be effective.

2015 census data shows about 6,500 people entered Johnson from other counties to work, 11,500 leave to work and about 8,500 live and work in Johnson County.

Brantner said data shows the need to create good jobs “to keep people from leaving here” to work elsewhere, which would improve the health of the local economy, because people shop where they work.

“We do a great job of keeping people up to (receiving) their bachelor’s degree,” she said. “Then they exit Johnson County and go somewhere else to find a job.”

The county needs better-paying jobs in tune with residents’ educational achievements, she said.

Brantner said the labor issue is not confined to Johnson County.

“How you solve it effectively will set you apart,” she said.

Ady’s information for the EDC will highlight the skills gap between degrees held by residents and “what can be applied in the workforce.”

But Brantner cautioned a solution will not be immediate.

“We didn’t get into (the labor situation) overnight, and we won’t get out overnight,” she said.

Brantner said training is needed for the area’s workforce at all levels.

“We’re fortunate we have good schools here,” she said, but the county loses state job-training funds every year. “We continue to do more with less. We have to find innovative ways to help pay for training programs.”

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