Written by Al Krulick, Editor in Chief for Business View Magazine
The scarcity of qualified workers across many industries and sectors is something that we at Business View Magazine hear about daily, as we converse with business owners and entrepreneurs around the country. In fact, with a national unemployment rate just under four percent, there are now more jobs available – approximately 6.9 million of them – than there are available workers looking for them.
The current labor shortage has been further exacerbated by a mass exodus of retiring Baby Boomers, as well as tougher immigration restrictions, and it’s a big headache for businesses when they can’t find enough talent to meet growing demand. Some companies even have to reject new orders because they cannot fill them.
Meanwhile, other firms have been forced to get creative to fill the record job openings. Some are increasing overtime and converting part-time workers to full-time; some are spending more on vocational training, establishing ties to local schools and colleges; some are lowering their standards for hiring – in many parts of the country, former felons are no longer being rejected out of hand. When all else fails, some companies just bite the bullet and offer an array of benefits, bonuses, incentives, and other forms of compensation.
Today, businesses are not the only ones doling out enticements to potential workers. All across America, towns and cities with unfulfilled jobs have joined the recruitment parade and are handing out money, student-debt relief, and home-purchase assistance to lure employees in what has been referred to as a modern day Homestead Act, referring to the 1862 law, which offered public land to settlers willing to move West.
In Hamilton, Ohio, for example, where state statistics show about 5,800 unfilled jobs in a city of 62,000, college graduates who agree to move there can receive up to $5,000 toward their student loan debt. The “reverse scholarship” program, which started in February 2018, is available to any student who graduated in the last seven years with a science, technology, engineering, math, or arts degree, and/or has more than $5,000 in college debt. Teachers who move to Hamilton and teach full-time for five consecutive academic years in select low-income schools can qualify for even greater student loan paybacks — up to $17,500.
Detroit, Michigan has a fellowship program that gives newcomers a guaranteed salary for the first year. Launched in 2008, “Challenge Detroit” offers paid fellowships for out-of-state college graduates to move, live, and work in the city. Every year, about 30 fellows are chosen to work with local companies and nonprofits, with the option to settle down in the city after the 12-month-long program finishes. Fellows make $36,000 for the year, plus benefits.
Located about an hour drive from Des Moines, Marne, Iowa is providing free land to new residents who want to build a house there. Often valued in the tens of thousands, the lots average about 9,600 square feet.
The North Platte, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce began offering up to $10,000 to anyone who moves there for a job. New employees must agree to remain at their companies for at least three years.
New, eligible residents who move to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, can have their income taxes waived for up to five years. And people who move to Colby, a city in Thomas County, can apply for both the income tax waivers and up to $15,000 in student loan repayments. The same goes for Oberlin, Eureka, and Stockton.
In Grant County, Indiana, the Economic Development Office offers $5,000 toward a home for people moving to the area. The requirements are a job and advanced training or a college degree, and the money must be repaid if a recipient leaves within five years. So far, about 100 newcomers have bought houses through the program. In addition, the Grant County Chamber of Commerce is developing a $9,000 scholarship program to help repay student loans, which, combined with the housing grants, would pay newcomers $14,000 to settle there.
Starting in January 2019, Vermont will pay $10,000 over two years to a small number of remote workers who relocate to the City of Burlington — money that will help cover costs for relocation, computer software and hardware, internet access, and membership to co-working spaces. Vermont has earmarked $125,000 for the program’s first year.
The Washington State Loan Repayment Program is offering up to $75,000 in loan reimbursements for workers paying down their student loans in certain health-related fields and are willing to dig in for three years.
In years past, towns, cities, counties, and even states would vie with one another to see which jurisdiction could offer the most attractive incentive packages to large businesses that promised to relocate and hire local workers. Today, those incentives have been downsized; they’re now designed to attract workers one by one.