Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and other headwinds, industrial development activity in the County continues at a record-breaking pace with over 5.5 million square feet of new development under construction or recently completed. This includes new facilities for Haribo, Heartland Produce, Kroger, Nexus and ULINE, as well as roughly 3 million square feet of new speculative development.
These developments and the employment opportunities they create for the community are incredibly positive. The expectation is that this momentum will continue, particularly when nearly 3 million square feet is being constructed on a speculative basis.
That’s the good news . . .
As we work with area employers, their top concern is an incredibly tight labor market. There is a war for talent and it is impacting area businesses. In many respects, this is a positive development for the community. More and better job opportunities with higher salaries for local workers are what we want. Rising wages and income levels lead to a healthier and wealthier community, which is KABA’s ultimate desire.
But if too many job opportunities go unfilled or businesses stop investing and expanding in the area over concerns about the labor market or their ability to remain competitive, this will stifle growth.
If ever there were a time to address long term unemployment (and underemployment) issues, this is it. Nobody should be left on the sidelines. We must continue to be diligent in the pursuit of education and workforce development initiatives that provide people with the skills they need to work.
Collectively we need to do a better job of connecting these dots and matching those in need of employment with the various opportunities that exist. And if there are barriers (e.g. transportation, skills gaps, or others), we need to continue to be creative and aggressive in eliminating them.
Even as we work to maximize our available human capital, we must also find ways to accelerate population growth. Overall, demographic trends in the upper Midwest are not favorable. We have an aging population that is not growing as quickly as other areas of the country.
My view is that Kenosha County can and should be an outlier here. We are well positioned for growth with: (1) a favorable location between two major metropolitan areas; (2) an impressive
amount of economic development activity; and (3) numerous advantages to tout in terms of lifestyle and affordability. Even if the demographic trends in our state and region are unfavorable, Kenosha County can and should stand out as a hub for growth.
To summarize, I believe we need to emphasize a two-pronged approach to address the tight labor market. First, let’s make sure we are maximizing the human resources we have in our community and being creative and aggressive in removing obstacles to employment. Second, we need to step on the accelerator with respect to population growth and push our mid-sized city to become a hot spot for population growth. These are issues where KABA will continue to invest our time, energy and resources. Please connect with us to share your ideas, input and feedback.
Written by Todd Battle, President, Kenosha Area Business Alliance.