Careers to keep our children nearby are still awfully hard to attract

 

A reporter called the other day from National Public Radio’s Atlanta affiliate. She wanted to hear from rural Georgia about what we think it’s going to take to stem the outward migration from South Georgia’s sandy plains to the red hills of metropolitan Atlanta and its suburbs.

The answer isn’t new.

It’s jobs.

People follow paychecks. Recruiting those jobs to deep southeast Georgia isn’t an easy task, however.

Pierce County’s chief job recruiter is Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Matt Carter. His job isn’t easy. I know. I once held it.

“Probably the number one factor new business looks for is a skilled workforce,” says Carter. “And that can be an issue.”

Trained workers has always been a vital ingredient for job recruitment but in today’s market where employment is at an all-time high here and across the country, finding the right workers to match a company’s needs may be the hardest it’s been in decades.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said just last week that the Southern Georgia region tied a record in November for its lowest unemployment rate ever recorded. The November unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, down by .4 from October. It was 4.4 percent just a year ago.

Finding adequate workers is a longstanding problem but that’s a problem nearly universal across America these days. Southeast Georgia has an even more intractable dilemma that has been with us through both boom  and bust employment times.

It’s geography.

No matter the wage, no matter the schooling, regardless of what a new business is seeking to open its doors, our region has long been challenged by one iron-clad fact of life: the herd mentality.

Just like big-city car dealers like to line up, shoulder-to-shoulder, on long automotive rows so they can all feed off each others shoppers, new businesses like to follow other businesses. For some, the equation is simple: if an area is stable and growing sufficiently to support ABC business, it should be a safe place for XYZ to invest in.

One job recruiter explained it to me bluntly.

“If I can locate in ‘rural’ Georgia — say Villa Rica or Commerce — and still be an hour or so from the Atlanta airport, all those universities, millions of people in the workforce and lots of other amenities, why should I risk investing my dollars four hours away from all that in your town?”

Still working on my comeback for that remark.

Of course we have a major airport a little over an hour away and we have universities nearby, but...

We’re never gonna be closer to Atlanta than we are today. Never going to be within that “golden perimeter” of Hartsfield-Jackson International.

The real question is, how do we convert what some see as isolation into an innovation? How does a genuinely rural location become an asset?

There are answers to those questions but too few business owners seem to care to ask. The herd mentality is a powerful dynamic.

If you have answers, love to hear from you.

• Robert M. Williams, Jr. is Editor & Publisher of The Blackshear Times. Email: rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.

Robert M. Williams, Jr. can be reached at rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.