AS WE ARE HOPEFULLY CONTINUING to move past the pandemic, the #1 challenge being confronted by employers is the availability of workforce. It’s not geographic as it is being experienced nationally and in Canada and Europe, and in rural, urban and suburban areas alike. It’s not sectoral as it is being experienced in manufacturing, retail, hospitality, agriculture, and all other employment sectors. And it’s not really tied to skills or pay strata as it is being felt from basic lower skill jobs to professionals and everyone in between.

We actually were at this point in most respects in early 2020, pre-pandemic, with low unemployment and difficulty in filling positions. The pandemic was a distraction for a time but now, since economic reopening, the labor shortage is back — but different and more pervasive. The lasting impacts of the age of shutdowns and remote work and education and enhanced benefits and a whole range of rethinking by people about life and employment are creating an unprecedented “stew” that significantly misses the mark of current employment. Add to these new waves and wrinkles to the growing challenge of basic demographics and we are in a landscape we couldn’t have imagined in early 2020.

There are no sure answers or silver bullets — we must continue to do what we have been doing over the last several years. Everything we can for likely marginal gains here and there, helping but not resolving the shortage of labor. This is why, for example, we were pleased to preside at the recent signing of a new MOU between Clinton Community College and Clarkson University, while encouraging invigorated use by area employers of platforms such as the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and CV-TEC. And why we are devising and seeking resources for new workforce development services that are flexible and cost-effective.

It’s also why the Chamber will be examining an agenda this fall for the new year that will include strategic promotion of new approaches and progress across the North Country — including the Adirondacks where solutions are even more challenging — in housing that is affordable to and supports quality living for middle class working people — a growing crisis especially in the Adirondacks. And in childcare which was a growing problem pre-pandemic but has now been shown to be dire if we want as much of our labor pool working as possible. And broadband/cell services where they are still absent or inadequate.

And immigration. Make no mistake. For 150+ years, America met the labor needs of a growing economy through immigration. It has increased prosperity generation after generation as well as the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes America. But now when we most need a rational national conversation about various forms of legal immigration and work visas, we are mired in political toxicity around any aspect of the subject. This will not change soon, but the nation’s business community must start to be part of the call for a rethink, and we must hope it can be achieved in the medium term. Let’s be clear: The main answer to having too few people is more people.

In the meantime, the North Country Chamber will continue to do all that it can to support success by our employer community and facilitate quality employment opportunities for all of our neighbors.

Garry Douglas is president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce.