New Hanover County shared a new report on April 18, produced by a locally-based firm Greenfield, about the current status, challenges, and potential of economic development in our region. It contains plenty of information local employers should be aware of, but the length of the report – around 100 pages – will likely present a barrier for the typical busy business owner.
From a human resources perspective, and in fewer pages, here are some top findings from the report that Wilmington-area employers of any size and industry should consider.
Economic Pros and Cons of New Hanover County
Greenfield pinpointed a few primary and secondary economic assets of the region. A handful of noteworthy county characteristics include quality of life, UNCW and CFCC, our mid-Atlantic location, and comparatively low tax rates.
As for major issues and limitations, the report cites difficulty recruiting and maintaining younger workers and engineers.
“The county has seen its population, workforce size, and employment grow over the past
10 years. However, over that same period, labor force participation rates have steadily decreased, along with the percentage of younger population (future workforce). Consequently, the county will need to...focus on growing its younger population into a future workforce,” the report shared.
From an HR perspective, there is much that local employers can do to assist and improve the recruiting and retaining of top talent in our region.
Solution One: Feeding the Talent Pipeline
The younger workforce is diminishing in the area despite the quality of life offered and having multiple higher education institutions bringing Gen Z and Millennials to the county, albeit temporarily. The report shares that UNCW officials are working on plans to help keep graduates in the area, but responsibility also lies with local businesses. Employers need to proactively invest in this demographic in order to feed the talent pipeline. No attractive and competitive job opportunities equals no retention of students or young professionals.
Employers can consider offering benefits that specifically speak to younger workers. Local businesses of any size can cater their HR packages to this demographic by including targeted benefits like generous maternity and paternity leave, support with childcare expenses, tuition reimbursement, flexible work schedules, PTO offered within the first year, remote and/or hybrid work options, professional development opportunities, and career advancement training. This will make businesses competitive among other area employers as well as among organizations across the nation vying for young workers.
Solution Two: Attract “Trailing Spouses”
A portion of the population growth we’re experiencing is due to people relocating for a new job. Several organizations have announced in recent months they’re gearing up to bring a large number of jobs to the area: Megacorp (300 jobs), Amazon (100 jobs), and Vantaca (100 jobs), to name a few. Clearly the area is continuing to grow in opportunity which presents a great benefit to local businesses from a recruiting perspective. Many new hires who relocate to the area bring with them a significant other who will seek a local job opportunity.
When businesses successfully attract a family to move into our area for a new role, helping the “trailing spouse” discover local job opportunities should be a regular part of their HR process. In other words, growing companies bringing in outside talent can communicate with fellow businesses and share resumes of the significant other with employers that may be a good fit. This scenario is a win-win-win-win – two local organizations gain new recruits and two new residents secure local jobs.
Solution Three: Bridge the Gap to Surrounding Communities
The report specifically sheds light on the economic status within New Hanover County, though Greenfield acknowledges the county’s “successful economic development investment results exist because of both workforce and business assets throughout the region” – beyond county lines. This emphasizes our need to look across the Wilmington borders to seek great talent worthy of hiring and retaining.
It seems to be a popular notion among local employers that hiring someone who has to commute “over the bridge” seems too far away. When an employer makes assumptions based on a candidate’s address on a resume, they may be losing out on phenomenal talent. Additionally, this can fall under discrimination (based on address assumptions). By broadening our borders for recruiting consideration, we can include those who have settled in a surrounding community knowing and accepting that a commute into New Hanover County would likely be required of them.
While expanding your perception of what is an acceptable commuting distance for candidates, why not consider what a hybrid-remote work schedule could look like for current and future employees? As much of the workforce across the nation inches closer to remote work flexibility, this only increases our access to talent in southeastern NC.
There are many possible solutions to attracting more talent to the region and retaining professionals once they’re here. The great takeaway from the report is how many positive attributes we can already tout here in New Hanover County. With some targeted, concerted effort from area businesses, we are poised to see our local economy and business community develop in exciting ways.
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