Work force is getting stronger

In January, New Flyer of America, Inc. opened its doors in Chautauqua County, in a facility developed through the renovation of a grocery store at 220 Fluvanna Ave. The high-tech manufacturer of transit busses is a leader in its industry and as part of its opening, has promised 40 new jobs. Filling those 40 jobs with high-quality, affordable members of our local labor force will dictate the success of New Flyer’s operations in Western New York.

New Flyer is one example of numerous investments our region’s people, infrastructure and businesses. Bridgestone, Athenex, FedEx and BlackRock, among others, chose to invest in new facilities in Buffalo Niagara in 2016. And as we continue to attract businesses large and small, it is imperative that we address the challenges and opportunities for those employers and their employees.

Talent attraction is a central component of the development of Chautauqua County’s economy, and companies considering operations here must be given the tools to hire a qualified and affordable workforce. Commissioned by regional economic development organization Invest Buffalo Niagara and conducted by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, Labor Market Assessment 2017, released this month, provides an objective look at the current state of the region’s labor market.

Labor Market Assessment 2017 tells us that the region’s economy is the largest in New York State outside of the New York City metropolitan area, with over 672,000 jobs, nearly 38,000 firms and a labor force of nearly 735,000.

We generate $54.9 billion in gross metropolitan product, and exports account for nearly one-fifth of production at $9.3 billion in 2014. The majority of our industries experienced job growth over the past five years, with expanding industries adding over 25,000 jobs since 2009. Between 2009 and 2014, local industries also became more specialized, particularly manufacturing and leisure/hospitality.

Our regional workforce is stable and our labor turnover is lower than the national average. The proportion of workers age 25-34 has been on the rise — now nearly on par with national numbers. We have an estimated 132,000 underemployed individuals – nearly one in five. But, many of the jobs employers have available today have been identified as “hard-to-fill.” Hiring will only occur if specialized skills are cultivated our for target industries.

As companies like New Flyer consider operations in Western New York, we must proactively address their opportunities and potential challenges. For many companies, the availability of in-demand talent is often the most critical deciding factor when faced with the choice of whether or not to do business in Buffalo Niagara. By taking a close look at our labor market, we as a region are able to assess the strength of our economy and connect employers with the high-quality, affordable workforce they need.

Thomas Kucharski is president and chief executive officer of Invest Buffalo-Niagara