Job creation no longer the only focus needed
It has been an interesting past 10 years for Crook County's job market.
Looking back to 2009, the community was crushed by the nationwide Great Recession, and as the housing market crashed, unemployment soared to a rate of greater than 20 percent. Local leaders pointed to an economy that leaned too heavily on wood product manufacturing and construction and began searching for new ways to diversify the economy.
As the next few years passed, upgrades at government-owned enterprises like the Prineville Airport and City of Prineville Railway helped bring in new companies, and of course Facebook and Apple picked the community to site their massive data centers, adding a highly visible new tech industry to Crook County.
During the recession, job creation was priority No. 1, and as the nation and the community came out the other side of the downturn, people once again found work, and unemployment rates dropped all the way down to record low rates.
All was well it seems — but a funny thing was happening. Rumblings began to emerge — sometimes during town halls held by Crook County's congressional delegates, and other times at locally sponsored economic events — that businesses had more jobs available but nobody qualified to fill them.
It's a good problem to have, perhaps. At least jobs are available. But now, local leaders face a new challenge. Rather than focus exclusively on creating new jobs — an effort that should never sleep, by the way — they now need to put more emphasis on building a workforce that can fill the openings in the community.
The good news is work appears to be under way to address this issue. School district leaders are trying to resurrect vocational programs that teach students various trades. Meanwhile, county officials plan to work with building trades and the local data centers to educate local students and unemployed individuals on how to either help build, or work at, the data centers.
In addition, the local Chamber of Commerce is collaborating with the county on a campaign to bring people who have left the community for work or education to come back home and use their skills to fill local positions.
These forward-thinking ideas are great to see, and it will be interesting to see how effective they will be. However, there are more pieces to this puzzle.
The local education system could certainly benefit from as robust of a technology program as possible so that interested students can learn skills necessary to land jobs in the data center industry.
Continual attention must also be given to making Crook County as appealing to both its current residents and to those who might choose to move here. Adding a new school, a new hospital and a new jail are huge helps as are improvements to the community's recreational amenities — but there are always way to keep improving.
If recent history is any indication, local leaders are certainly capable of maintaining the current momentum but also of taking the community to higher heights. Hopefully, 10 years down the road, we can take another look back and find even more success stories.