North Country @ 3.4

The Plattsburgh region has been doing well for several years in attracting job creating investment, earning recognition by fDi Magazine last year as one of the Top 10 Micropolitan Cities of the Future in all of North and South America. But as well as we have been doing generally, when was the last time the unemployment rate in Clinton County was lower than the state rate? And lower than the national rate?

Recent unemployment estimates released by the State Labor Department for October showed a rate of 3.4% in Clinton County, down from an already low 3.6% a month earlier. This compared with a New York State rate of 3.6% and a national rate of 3.5%. Neighboring North Country counties are dropping as well, with a rate of 3.8% in Franklin County and 3.5% in Essex.

This makes sense when considering everything from job growth this year at most area manufacturers, to the achievement of continued strong cross border visitation from Canada, rising sales tax receipts, and a generally booming U.S. economy. The North Country economic development team has continued to do the right things and the outcomes are reflected in these numbers.

This is welcome news for the region, with new and better job opportunities for our people. At the same time, of course, it means unprecedented competition by area employers for the retention and recruitment of employees. And there are ample reasons to anticipate that the competition for labor will intensify with continued growth at many area companies, the renewal of active interest in our area by Canadian companies following the USMCA agreement (though with some uncertainties around that next year), the upcoming completion of the Norsk Titanium project, the beginning of active redevelopment plans for the former Pfizer site in Rouses Point, and the implementation of continued state investments including the city’s downtown, among other developments just ahead.

A multi-faceted approach to workforce recruitment and retention will be a priority for the North Country Chamber and its partners in 2019. But make no mistake. There is no silver bullet or even a sure set of solutions. We must all work in this new environment of labor competition (which is national and international) in a variety of ways, making things marginally better in a variety of ways. And with some of the tools developed over the last few years such as the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Clinton Community College (IAM), the updated capabilities of CV-TEC, the active engagement in our area by Clarkson University and the general environment of partnership now in place, we should do better for our employers and our people than the majority of similar micropolitan/rural manufacturing hubs in North America.

A few general thoughts and observations:
• In the last year IAM has sparked a wave of fresh commitment by area companies to contract training for their specific needs. At least a dozen companies are now engaged in training programs at CCC or are developing training for the new year. This must continue and grow, not only with CCC/IAM but with CV-TEC as well.
• Employers large and small must recognize the importance of their benefits, culture and reputation in attracting talent. Employees are truly “customers” in a tight labor market and maximizing that customer satisfaction among employees will enhance retention and spread the message in the workforce that a given business is a good place to work. And it isn’t all about basic wages, but can include benefits (including voluntary benefit access), access to child care, potential flexibility with hours and policies, and simply being sure employees feel respected as individuals.
• Maximum use of all opportunities for visibility and interaction with prospective employees, including job and career fairs and online marketing avenues, while understanding the numbers involved will be lower now than a few years ago but that every tool must be used.
• Encouragement and support for project learning in our area schools, done so well at Beekmantown which has become a great example. And new outreach to the schools, which the Chamber and Clinton Community College will be looking to help organize in the coming months.
• Fresh consideration of how to more actively consider candidates most employers have rejected out of hand in the past, such as those with a record of substance abuse or other personal issues but with the backing of credible service providers committed to helping them become successful employees.
• A new look at efficiencies that might reduce the need for employees, not only through automation investments in some cases but through workplace efficiency assessments that might enhance productivity, tapping services such as CITEC.
All of this and more will be a key topic for all of us in 2019. Together we have achieved economic success for our region with more to come. And together, we will manage the resulting challenge as well as and possibly better than most.