The Local Jobs Machine

Washington is debating how to reduce unemployment. But job creation is a local affair, and it’s a management challenge.
by | October 19, 2011

G. Edward DeSeve

G. Edward DeSeve is a GOVERNING contributor. He has served in senior positions in academia, government and the private sector.

President Obama's American Jobs Act is facing a difficult struggle in Congress, with Republicans offering a competing plan to reduce unemployment and even some Democrats concerned about the new spending that Obama's plan would require. But while the president awaits congressional action, he might want to reach out to local-government leaders. This cadre of elected, appointed and merit officials is in a position to make a real difference.

Over the years, I have spoken with hundreds of mayors, county commissioners and other local officials. Very often, I was asked how to promote economic development and how to create more jobs. I have gone back over my notes from years past and distilled the "Top Ten Things Local Officials Can Do to Promote Job Creation":

1. Know your job creators: You need to find out what kind of jobs employers currently have in place and whether their companies and their industries are likely to grow. You need to get the statistics and also talk directly with large and small employers.

2. Know your labor force: What kinds of skills are in your labor force and how can they be enhanced? Do these skills fit what employers need? Will you need to "import" some workers? Where are you likely to find them? For example, Canadian health-care providers recently advertised in the U.S. for workers to fill their skill shortages.

3. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your community: Location, transportation, infrastructure, quality of life and education are only some of the factors that affect location decisions. Seek out location consultants and ask them how you stack up against your competition--regionally, nationally and internationally.

4. Partner: Find employers who are willing to work with you and put them to work with their customers, their suppliers and their colleagues to encourage job creation. The "agglomeration effect," where co-location promotes efficiency, is very real.

5. Talk constantly: Let people know that you are "open for work." At every chance, let employers know that you want to help in any way you can. Go to schools and colleges and encourage faculty to understand local needs and encourage students to seek employment locally after they graduate.

6. Have a plan: Publish an official "plan for jobs." This should describe what kinds of jobs you want, where they could be located, what incentives are available, what federal government programs can be used to help, what regulations might need to be changed, and how taxes can be modified to encourage job creation. Make sure that there is an organizational infrastructure in place to carry out this plan with well-packaged financing and training available.

7. Streamline processes: Make it easy for employers to add jobs in your community. Everything from applying for a business license to getting construction permits to paying taxes should be as simple as possible, and there should be a bias in your government in favor of simplifying processes for employers.

8. Emphasize services: The business of local government is to provide services. Let people know how good yours are. Whether it is police or fire or water and sewer, good services thoughtfully provided to employers can be very helpful. If you have a great recycling program, for example, let employers know about it. A green community may be just what an employer is looking for.

9. Partner again, this time with other governments in your region: Jobs in a town or county just across the border will help your residents as well. A joint effort to sell a region can be more effective than cutthroat competition. Work at the state level to promote every benefit that your state has to offer to encourage employers to expand.

10. Hustle: At every opportunity, talk about jobs and the need to create more. Go to every event you can where job expansion is happening. Let the employers know that you are glad to help in any way you can. Be relentless.

These ideas are not just good politics; they are an integral part of the management role of local officials. The management tasks of analysis, planning, resourcing, coordination and evaluation are all brought to bear in promoting the kind of healthy community growth that will make the nation stronger. Growing the pie will mean more pie for everyone.


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