HICKORY- Catawba County is facing a problem it hasn’t seen in more than a decade: low unemployment.
The last time Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, recalls unemployment this low in Catawba County was possibly in the mid-2000s.
Millar will be discussing the challenges that low unemployment presents to companies during the economic development organization’s annual meeting today.
Millar spoke Tuesday about the workforce challenge, how the county can become more competitive and what industries will be the best fit for Catawba County in the future.
The interview has been edited for conciseness.
On the workforce problem: The theme of the meeting is, I mean my part of the meeting … will be how are we dealing with our next issue, which is 3.3 percent unemployment.
So over the last several years what I’ve been preaching is the need to have sites, ready sites for opportunities that might come in. So we did spec buildings. We’ve built Trivium Corporate Center. We’ve built product.
Now, if you’re an existing company … the next question is, How am I going to staff this facility? So the question is: I’ve got a 3.3 percent unemployment rate in Catawba County. How am I going to fill up that thing with people?
On solutions to the workforce problem: There are multiple things that we’re doing. This brochure right here is focused on entities that are charged with resolving that problem. So there’s the community college, there’s K-64; there’s all these different things. But what we’ve done is that we’ve encapsulated all these entities into a marketing device.
So what we’ve done is we’ve taken it apart and if you’re a company and you’re wondering where your workforce is going to come from, if it’s management and engineers, it’s going to come from Lenoir-Rhyne and Appalachian State and the engineering technologies center.
And if you’re looking for mid-skilled positions, it’s going to come from Catawba Valley (community college) and Apprenticeship Catawba and the CTE program.
Next page is, all right: How am I going to recruit them short term, zero to three months? How am I going to recruit them long-term, six to 12 months? And then what’s out here for building the workforce population a year to four years out?
So what we’re trying to do is answer that question for the client that’s asking before they come and to my knowledge nobody has done this.
On Catawba County’s economic development in the last year: The investments were higher. So let’s say it was $200 million to $374 million.
The number of people is 231. Our average year is 400 to 500, so we didn’t announce as many jobs as normal.
And part of that is because people are investing in technology. Part of it is they’re not committing to the same number of jobs that they would have in the past. They’ll say we can fill 20 instead of 40 because they know it’s going to be a challenge to fill 40.
On how the county can become more competitive: If we realized fully the advantage of a growing and talent-rich population, then we would land project after project.
I mean, Charlotte is growing 44 people every day or more. If we had that type of growth and could sell it, we would certainly land more job-growing opportunities.
K-64 is a great start. I think you’ve got a lot of entities that are well-intentioned and they’re funded. They’re out here trying to attack the problem.
I think we could collaborate, I mean, just more so than we’re doing.
On the industries of the future in Catawba County: Certainly I think we’re chasing anything that is a value-add, which is that advanced manufacturing sector.
I think it’s just that I’m going to say medium-tech facilities, whether it’s a pharma facility, a data center or a communications industry facility where our workforce that we have can be trained up in a relatively easy manner.
I don’t see us being a lot of white lab coats. We need to do what we can do effectively and that sort of medium-tech job is the area where we’re going to excel.