How do we get workers to jobs in the Great Plains?
It’s a perplexing questions for economic development officials.
We have jobs available in this part of the world. What we are often lacking are the bodies to fill them.
Columbus, Neb., has faced this same issue for some time and has taken concrete efforts to get people to move to their community. One of the methods they have employed is recruitment trips to Northern Michigan. The region was selected because of its high unemployment and its similar culture to Nebraska.
K.C. Belitz, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote for the Daily Yonder about why it is difficult to get unemployed people to move for new jobs. It’s an enlightening read.
These were skilled people, with talents that are highly sought-after in many places, including Columbus, Nebraska. As a result of those visits and others, we have learned at least some of the reasons this dichotomy continues to exist in America: the split between tent cities of unemployed and jobs-gone-begging on the Great Plains.
I would offer a few recurring themes that we heard in small towns in northern Michigan, which you would likely hear in Ohio, Illinois, California, Nevada or other high-unemployment states.
Most often, because many of these folks have been unemployed for a long time they have expended virtually all their resources. So, if you ask them to fund a move to Nebraska, you might as well ask them to fund a relocation to the moon. The money simply isn’t there.
The next challenge many of these families faced was owning a home in a market in which, well, the market no longer exists. If they had managed to hold on to their house, they knew there was no way to sell it and they clearly could not afford just to leave it behind and start paying rent, much less a second mortgage. Job or no job, they weren’t going to leave their unsold, and unsellable, houses.
Columbus Days celebration in 2009. So, we have skilled people, desperate for a job in many places around the U.S. They aren’t lazy. They just can’t find a way to make the move. At the same time we have employers, desperate for skilled people, in many other places around the U.S., many in rural communities.
For the good of the nation and the good of those families, we need to work toward a solution.
We have suggested to our Congressman, Adrian Smith, (and anyone else who would listen) that somehow federal unemployment benefits could be structured to allow people to take “an advance” on their benefits to use for relocation to a place where they can find work. In this way, the government can stop paying unemployment benefits, an employer gets a needed employee to help keep jobs in our country, and most importantly, a family gets a steady full-time income to support itself.