Developing a well-trained and dependable workforce continues to be among the priorities Alabama communities should be setting for themselves, an Auburn University economist says.
Beyond that, however, communities must ensure that they not only develop and properly educate such a workforce, but they must work hard to retain it.
Meaning, make young graduates and veteran skilled laborers happy to live in your town.
It’s sound advice, and too often, taxpayers and tax-spenders tend to overlook how important quality-of-life factors are in recruiting good-paying, desired jobs from industries and businesses willing to move here and provide them.
Joe Sumners, executive director of the Government & Economic Development Institute at Auburn University, recently shared his remarks with a business audience at an Opelika Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.
While having a good education system is critical to prosperous economic growth, what is it about a hometown that will keep them there, he asked.
“In a lot of communities these days, the top export isn’t cotton or soybeans, but high school graduates,” he said.
Quality of life consistently ranks among the top factors industries say they consider before moving somewhere, Sumners said, referring to one Top 5 list from Area Development Magazine, which listed as priorities, based on a survey:
1. Highway accessibility
2. Labor costs
3. Availability of skilled labor
4. Quality of life
5. Construction costs
And among the top factors that determine a quality-of-life rating?
Low crime rates, schools, healthcare and housing.
Thus, those areas all must be included when a community sets goals for future growth and development.
The good news is, Auburn and Opelika already offer many of these qualities, and both seem to be on path to ensure positive lifestyle opportunities are here for years to come.
Also, big-name venues and events such as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Opelika and the athletic programs of Auburn University, or the fast-growing interests in performing arts and outdoor venues, all add up to good things for Lee County and east-central Alabama.
But Sumners’ point is we can’t stop there.
Just as with a constant effort required to improve our schools and infrastructure, we must always be looking for other ways to improve our quality of life.
That, in the end result, tends to make everyone happy.