Well, there IS some good news…

November 11, 2019Doug Peters, President and CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

Although it doesn’t make our community’s ability to secure quality employees any easier, the good news is that workforce challenges continue to plague every community we compete against for jobs and capital investment.

Comforting, huh?

Not when you’re trying to run and grow a business. The comfort of “we’re all in this together” seems elusive.

Undeniably, workforce – skilled, available talent – isn’t a new challenge anywhere. I remember as a youngster in the Chamber and economic development business reading article after article in American Demographics magazine about how the nation better sit up and pay attention, because 25 years from then (this was in the late-1980s) we are all going to be strapped for talent. Those pesky Baby Boomers were projected to retire en masse and businesses were going to be left struggling to compete.

Oh sure. 25 years…that was a lifetime from then. No reason to worry, right? Afterall, one of my favorite things “Doug’s Dad said” is, “If it weren’t for employees and customers, business would be great!”

Unfortunately, the old man knew he needed both. And, so do you.

I continue to read on the subject, and although I’m far from a subject matter expert, I’ve learned a few things along the way that might make things a little more palatable for those of us who need people in order to make our world go-round.

First, there are long-term solutions and short-term solutions. Let me start with the long-term stuff.

To make a long-term impact, we need critical mass. We have two options – we all get busy procreating, or we can work together to build a community of quality where people want to live. Remember, we’re competing with every community in the USA – and some would argue the world – for talent. Why would someone choose Abilene over one of the major metropolitan areas? What is it about Abilene that we can use to out-recruit the likes of Milwaukee? Or Orlando? Or Cleveland, as an example?

In my view, we need to work on the continuous improvement of all that we are. Now, you know the community’s chief cheerleader (me) thinks Abilene, Texas, is awesome. But it doesn’t matter what I think, necessarily. What matters is what others think. The perception of outsiders matters. That’s why we need to support local law enforcement (we’re all in charge of the safety of our city). It’s why involvement in our schools is vital (it isn’t the schools’ job to raise and parent our kids). It’s the reason we focus attention of the heart of our city, which is seen by many who visit as a barometer of what our community thinks of ourselves (and we’re winning, I might add, thanks to the risk-takers who are making it happen).

We can work closely with our schools – public, private, STEM, vocational, K-12, colleges and universities to crank out prepared workers, and hope they choose to stay here. Or, we can give them a reason to stay here.

In short, “quality of place” is something we should all be thinking about. Here are some numbers to think about – get a load of this:

Abilene: Population 132,679
Labor Force: 55,742
Employed: 54,100
Unemployment: 1,642
Number of Job Openings Abilene: 2,737

Abilene MSA:
Population 169,000
Labor Force: 77,098
Employed: 74,821
Unemployed 2,277
Number of Job Openings: Abilene MSA 4,075

Think about that. We have more job openings than we have people to fill them. That isn’t good. And it isn’t unique, either.

So, what’s the answer? That’s where the short-term stuff comes in. Now I’m no genius (hold your comments), but consider this – did you know that on average, there are 80 or so airmen exiting Dyess every month? Multiply times 12. That’s nearly 1,000 able-bodied workers who pass through our community, many (trust me) of whom would love to stay here. Add spouses. Folks, we can make a major dent in the challenge if we can capture some of those folks. They can get to work on time. They can pass a drug test. Our nation has invested in training them. And they’re hungry to succeed.

But how do we access them?

Lord knows there are a gazillion “job boards” out there. Monster, Indeed, Zip Recruiter, LinkedIn…they all have one thing in common: job seekers can use them to find a job anywhere. Literally, anywhere. And “anywhere” doesn’t help us to keep these talented folks in our city.

Enter AbileneWorks.com. Have you posted your jobs? I can answer that – no, you probably haven’t. It’s new, and it’s a product of our economic development partnership Develop Abilene. It’s privately funded and available to you to help you fill the talent void. To make it work, and to get to a point where we can begin to push it to job seekers, we need it populated with jobs. You need to post your jobs because as of today, there are 1,095 more jobs than people here to fill them. It’s free. You control it. And it’s easy. Once we hit a posted jobs threshold that compels the job seekers to use it, we’ll invest heavily on telling folks to go there to find their next opportunity.

Here’s the best and most important part: – it’s Abilene-centric. You won’t find jobs posted from Milwaukee, Orlando, Cleveland or any other city. This is an Abilene employer exclusive.

So, do me a favor? Check it out and post up. We don’t want job-seeking folks going there and getting discouraged because there aren’t many jobs listed. And I know this – there should be at least 1,095 jobs posted today – the number of unfilled jobs within our city limits (there are nearly 1,800 openings in our three-county area). This thing should be full of jobs.

Help us help you. We may be all be in this together, but Abilene, Texas, is committed to competing, and more so to winning. Let’s make it happen.





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