By R.J. DeLuke
A huge component of economic development is helping existing businesses, looking to expand, find a local solution that meets their needs, and also connecting the right dots so that businesses looking to come into Saratoga County can do so with relative ease.
A key part of both of those situations is having a workforce that meets the needs of the employer, said Marty Vanags, president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership.
The Prosperity Partnership, along with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, announced less than a year ago a business retention and expansion initiative dubbed Business First Saratoga.
It is intended to serve local business owners by developing relationships to better understand the opportunities and challenges of doing businesses in the region. An area that the program tries to assist businesses with is workforce development.
“Employers are having a difficult time finding employees to work at their facilities,” he said. “I hear it all the time.”
Some of the need to find employees comes as the work demographic changes, he said. Baby Boomers are getting to the point of retirement those jobs need to be filed.
Skills that are required today are different as technology put a stronger stamp on how things are accomplished.
Vanags said work ethic is also an issue. “Can you be on time? Can you be collaborative?”
Getting good workers to stay—job retention—is then a key aspect of having a strong local workforce. As is “luring the right people for the right job,” said Vanags.
The economic development official said there is no concrete solution to keeping and attracting good employees. But generally, when trying to attract young people, in particular, to come and live and work in a community, it’s good to have things outside of the workplace that are inviting.
Saratoga County has attractions within it that are desirable. The list is ever-touted by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County. It is also close to the State Capital and the attractions of the Albany area, as well as Lake George and its amenities.
Trips to cities like Boston and New York City can be done with relative ease from Saratoga County.
“I call it ‘quality of place,’” said Vanags.
Places like Saratoga Race Course are nice, he noted, but it is seasonal and also not everyone’s cup of tea. He said young people are looking for places to go hiking, kayaking, canoeing and biking.
“We’re just as good as California and better than Texas in that regard,” he said in reference to warm-climate with high-tech jobs that young job seekers give consideration.
Vanags said for businesses looking for employees or employee training that benefits job retention, it can be just a matter of educating employers about programs that exist.
In January, the Prosperity Partnership conducted a workforce roundtable that was attended by employers as well as training service providers and educators.
He said employers were asked what problems they face and the educators and program providers were asked how their services could help address those needs.
In many cases, it is a matter of letting employers know what is out there. Some were surprised to find out of the existence of some programs that could potentially be of assistance.
“Business people are very busy running a business,” said Vanags. “They don’t have time, necessarily, to look around at ancillary services … We’re trying to connect employers with the services that are out there.”
He said another roundtable is being planned, but has not yet been scheduled. Dealing with job retention and workforce issues is something that is constantly ongoing.
“Economic development is always a work in progress,” he said.