May 24, 2016

Growth stresses local labor market, study says

W.E. Upjohn report presented at KABA event

By Rex Davenport
Kenosha News

Kenosha County employers benefit from an economy and business conditions that help their bottom line, but at the same time put an element of the unknown into business operations.

Those were just some of the indications in a newly released labor market analysis of the Kenosha region.

Highlights from the report, conducted over a five-month period by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, were unveiled Tuesday as part of the Let’s Talk Talent Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The conference was presented by the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, which also initiated the study.

The report forecast positive economic growth for Kenosha for the next two years. It noted that employment has been on the rise since 2009, with a 5.1 percent unemployment rate in 2015.

“Kenosha County has a relatively tight labor market,” the report states. “However, what this means for the county’s employers and for businesses looking to set up operations in the county is that it is and will become increasingly difficult to find qualified workers to fill jobs.”

Room for improvement

While the study found that employers in Kenosha County are providing a positive work environment for most workers, it noted there is room for improvement in the county’s workplaces.

“Highly educated workers — individuals holding graduate and professional degrees — while having better-than-average attitudes regarding the competency of their coworkers and training opportunities, were also more dissatisfied with equipment and technology provided by their employers,” the report stated.

“Production workers, in general, were found to be more dissatisfied with their workplace environment, including management relations, coworker competency, equipment, life/work balance, and training opportunities. At the same time, despite the evidence of the county’s relative low wages, production workers were no more dissatisfied with their wages than other workers.”

Consultant’s outlook

“Your economy is doing very well,” said George Erickcek, a regional business consultant with the Upjohn Institute, “but we have some concerns we’d like to share with you.”

While the county’s unemployment rate is low compared to what Erickcek called the “kidney stone of a year” in 2009, Erickcek warned that unemployment figures remain a bit skewed in the county and across the nation.

“There are still people out there who aren’t in the job market,” Erickcek said. “They’re on the sidelines.”

“For a manufacturer or distributor, I really can’t think of a better location than Kenosha County,” he added. “This is an ideal location. And, you have competitive wages, which may be a weakness as well. The wages being paid in the county are not only lower than the rest of the nation, but also lower than the surrounding counties.”

“The data supports what many people know about Kenosha, but don’t want to talk about. And that’s the wage structure is lower. That’s a competitive advantage to the community. It means if an employer is looking to relocate in the central part of the country, Kenosha looks very attractive.”

Schools ‘an opportunity’

The Upjohn report did not see local schools as a particular benefit in attracting new employers.

It stated: “The county’s schools should not be thought of as a liability or strength, but more of an opportunity; however, it is an opportunity that will require a full communitywide effort to explore.”

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