Is Jonesboro ready to compete?

by Mike Downing (mdowning@jonesborounlimited.com) 359 views 

Bragg City, Missouri was home in my elementary school days. It was a thriving farming community, but things changed quickly in the late-1960s. It didn’t require as many people to work on farms, gins, or factories. Lots of manufacturing in the 1970s was being shifted to China and Mexico due to cheap labor. In the late 1980s, Walmart affected retail shopping for local merchants, and in the 2010s, Amazon and other on-line shopping affected all retailers.

Today, my cell phone has much more computing power than the space capsules that sent a man to the moon. You get the picture – technology has significantly changed the economy and will continue to do so.

Heard of AI (artificial intelligence) and autonomous vehicles? Automation is, and will increasingly, affect a significant number of existing occupations, particularly those that involve lower skills and manual labor; however, AI will create more new types of higher skilled jobs than it will eliminate. The Institute for the Future has predicted that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.

With the advances in technology and knowledge jobs comes the need for more advanced education and skills, called “talent.” According to the International Economic Development Council, the development, attraction and retention of talent is now the No. 1 most critical challenge to economic developers and is the No. 1 consideration for the location of the vast number of new corporate facilities. From the perspective of workers, these higher-level jobs created by technology and knowledge companies pay much better, have more growth, and allow more freedom of mobility.

However, the U.S. workforce isn’t keeping up with the current demand for talent, and that demand will intensify every year. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 60% of all new jobs created will require skills only 20% of the current workforce possesses. The Lumina Foundation’s research indicates that 60% of Americans should hold a degree or certificate beyond high school to obtain economic success. Currently, the national average of Americans aged 25-64 that have at least an associate’s degree or a certificate is 46.9%; however, the State of Arkansas is at 39.9% and Craighead County is at 33.6%.

City Observatory says “The single most important factor driving economic success is the educational attainment of a city’s population – no other single factor comes close.”

Developing talent is one thing but attracting and retaining talent is another. In her book “Live First, Work Second”, Rebecca Ryan says “75% of young talent surveyed said that finding a ‘cool place’ was more important to them than finding a good job.” This “cool place” is an urban core where they can live, work and get around by public transit, walking or riding a bike, a dense mix of residential and commercial development, exciting entertainment options, continuing education, and appealing public spaces for exercise and gathering. Jonesboro is in competition with Memphis, Little Rock, Fayetteville and other places for this talent.

Does Jonesboro have the cool places to compete for talent, or if we don’t, what should we do? My Jonesboro Unlimited (“JU”) colleague Craig Rickert has developed an exciting video on selling Jonesboro to talent.

How do we best improve educational attainment? My other JU colleague Shelle Randall has championed Craighead County’s designation as a “Certified Work Ready Community” by ACT with the highest number of persons in the state that have received a Career Readiness Certificate. JU has implemented other key strategies to meet the challenges of talent development, attraction and retention. But there’s a lot more work to do, so let’s all have this discussion and take action. After all, it’s only the key to our community’s future.

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Editor’s note: Mike Downing is the Vice-President of Economic Development for Jonesboro Unlimited, and previously the Director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development. He is a “Certified Economic Developer” and a member of the International Economic Development Council. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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