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Cook column: The job crisis looming ahead

By Elizabeth Cook
Cabarrus and Rowan counties are in a job crisis, and it’s about to get much worse, according to Mac Holladay.
The problem? Too many jobs ó and not enough people with the right skills.
Holladay is the head of Market Street, the Atlanta consulting firm Kannapolis hired a few years ago to estimate the impact of the N.C. Research Campus and identify community needs.
More recently, Market Street has been looking at workforce needs. How many and what kind of workers will the Research Campus need? And what about other businesses? What job skills will they be looking for?
The firm’s researchers found 259 open positions in the two counties currently and identified some 2,000 that will be coming online in the next 30 months, about half of which will be on the Research Campus.
The message from the report last week was clear. If employers are having trouble finding qualified people for the 259 jobs open already, where will they look for people when their needs reach 2,000 ó let alone 35,000?
If the region doesn’t want to see every good job filled by recruits from somewhere else ó with local hires picking up the crumbs ó the two counties need to radically improve public education and job training.
Market Street shared its data last week with a steering committee working on the Cabarrus and Rowan Counties Educational and Workforce Development Action Plan.
A disclaimer: I am a member of the steering committee. I joined early this year to see how such a plan might come together.
The answer is bit by bit. Market Street has surveyed local employers and found 241 positions in the healthcare sector alone, among Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast (139), Rowan Regional Medial Center (59), the Bill Hefner V.A. Medical Center (28) and Cabarrus Family Medicine (15). In retail trade, Food Lion has 111 open positions, according to Market Street’s report, and Concord Mills has 12.
And more are coming up quickly. When Great Wolf Resorts and four other new hotels open next year, they’ll hire some 550 workers. Motorsports jobs expected to open up next year number 79 ó 10 at Windshear, 40 at Toyota Racing Development and 29 at Wind Tunnel Xtreme. (And, as one insider told Market Street, those who hire for the motorsports industry don’t want to talk to fans. They need people with high-level skills.)
The report closes with six key findings, one of which I’ll quote here:
“The local culture of not valuing education must change in both counties for each to increase the number of residents that can be employed on the NCRC and existing businesses. Increased awareness of education, not as a tool to get a job, but as a tool to advance in one’s career, must be implemented across both counties.”
I thought of all the bright students I saw at senior assemblies this spring. They were going to study for careers in fields like engineering and medicine, to name just a couple. Even the people from here who do get high-level skills seem to usually end up working somewhere else where job opportunities are better.
One more bit of information from last week’s meeting that’s worth sharing ó and that added even more urgency to Holladay’s prophesy and the need to ramp up education.
It came from a commentary about the Charlotte market that Wachovia Economics Group released last Tuesday, bearing the name of senior economist Mark Vitner. Only a small portion of the report concerns the Research Campus, but it says a great deal about the authenticity of the biotechnology project.
The report calls the Research Campus “a real game changer” for the region. Some excerpts:
“Higher education is about to take on a much bigger role in Charlotte, as the opening of the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis creates a huge new conduit between higher education, cutting edge research and economic development. ….
“While new research parks of this type are often hyped and rarely meet their expectations, the North Carolina Research Park has an unusually high probability of success. Few, if any, research parks have the financial and institutional backing this park has.”
So, despite the current slowdown, the future looks bright here ó for someone. Local leaders will have to move fast to make sure lots of those someones come from Rowan and Cabarrus counties.
– – –
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post. For more on the Educational and Workforce Development Action Plan, go to the Web site www.cr21stcentury.info.

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