Effort intensifies to attract, retain talented workers in Dayton region

‘If we don’t tackle this regionally, it’s not going to fulfill its destiny,’ Kettering councilman says of effort.

A talented workforce is key to the region’s economic well-being and future, according to a new report commissioned by the First Suburbs Consortium of Dayton.

Local business and government leaders are pushing for a more coordinated effort to bring talented workers to the area and keep the ones here from leaving. Competition for workers remains fierce — companies across the region, state and nation struggle to fill job openings as the economic recovery boosts consumer demand but pandemic-related disruptions continue.

“We need to become an incubator for ideas on keeping talent here and developing talent,” said Kettering Councilman Bruce Duke, a consortium governing board member. “If companies can’t get employees, we’re in trouble.”

The consortium won a grant to partner with the National League of Cities and TIP Strategies, an Austin-based consulting firm that combined regional data analysis with information gathered from a broad group of local business, education and government leaders at a forum held in September at Sinclair Community College.

“No. 1, we’ve got a lot of work to do, and No. 2 is we need to do it regionally ... If we don’t tackle this regionally, it’s not going to fulfill its destiny,” Duke said.

A regional approach should remove collaboration barriers, have clear goals and responsibilities, identify funding and set desired outcomes, the report says.

“There are some really good things that are already happening. We just really need to leverage those or align them better,” said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and one of the forum panelists.

The report found that the Dayton region should:

  • Better market itself as a place to live and work, including emphasizing the low cost of housing and office space, relative lack of traffic congestion, good schools and cultural amenities.
  • Convince more graduates of the many area colleges and universities to stay here.
  • Match more students at all levels to career opportunities and internships.
  • Target “boomerangs,” former residents considering returning.
  • Expand efforts tailoring educational offerings at all levels to the skills businesses need now and will in the future.
  • Expand affordable housing stock.
  • Attract potential employees with solid jobs offering good pay and opportunity for advancement in workplaces that value diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Dayton’s strong higher education institutional network and affordability compared to larger metros were ranked as assets in the competition for and retention of talent,” the report says.

Even so, the most common challenge identified in workforce recruitment is underqualified candidates, the report says.

“The battle for talent will be an increasing part of all our lives in every community in every state,” said Adam Murka, vice president of external affairs and chief of staff to the president at Sinclair Community College.

The college continues to expand its degree and certificate offerings to train people for the skills employers need, he said.

“We are as nimble as we know how to be,” Murka said. “I think the biggest change we’re going to see is the future of work and the future of education will be more intertwined than ever.”

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The report emphasizes the need for collaboration between the public and private sectors, and noted that many successful talent attraction and retention efforts already are in place in the Dayton region.

“There are so many people working on economic development and job attraction” said Jack Jensen, executive director of the First Suburbs Consortium of Dayton and a retired manager at the former DP&L.

But he said efforts by businesses, nonprofits, educators, workforce and economic development professionals and chambers of commerce “are sometimes in their own silos.”

“We’ve got to find a way to broaden that out and get everyone talking to one another and coordinating with one another,” Jensen said. “Talent attraction is so critical to the Dayton region, to any region. We need to move forward.”

Need for ‘czar’

An oversight committee is following up on insights gathered from the forum and data in the report, Duke said.

“We are trying to map out where do we go from here,” said committee member Cassie Barlow, president of the Strategic Ohio Council for Higher Education and a retired Air Force colonel.

“We are getting to the point where I think early next year we need to have something put together that says: Here is how we are going to move this project forward,” she said.

She and Duke said some kind of central group or person needs to coordinate the regional effort so that all stakeholders are aware of the various talent attraction and retention efforts in place and the gaps to fill. Both suggested that role could be taken on by the Dayton Development Coalition, the western regional partner of JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development arm.

“We need something like a czar or a director,” Duke said.

The DDC would be a partner in the effort but leadership should come from a coalition of partners, said Julie Sullivan, the coalition’s executive vice president for regional development.

“One of the roles we play in the community is bringing together partners,” Sullivan said.

The report’s findings coalesce nicely with the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy being drafted by the coalition and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, she said. That plan identifies talent and workforce as the No. 1 issue for the Dayton region.

“We have to make sure the talent we are producing matches the need of regional employers,” Sullivan said.

Credit: Sylvia Stahl

Credit: Sylvia Stahl

The CEDS, updated from one completed in 2012, is required by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and makes the region eligible for additional development funding, Sullivan said. Money from the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March would likely be available for the workforce effort as well, she said.

“I don’t know that anybody has a ticket price on this,” Sullivan said. “Because it is such a multiprong approach that makes (cost estimates) difficult as well.”

Population trends are challenging

Montgomery County’s population growth has been flat for several years, and worker migration into and out of the region is relatively stagnant, the report says.

The Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati regions were the top destinations of workers who left the Dayton-Kettering metro area, which includes Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties, between 2010 and 2020, the report says. The Charlotte, North Carolina, region and Atlanta region were the top out-of-state destinations.

Workers leaving Dayton-Kettering Metropolitan Statistical Area* 2010-2020
RankRegional destination of outgoing workers
1Columbus, OH
2Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN
3Cleveland-Elyria, OH
4Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC
5Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA
6Knoxville, TN
7Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
8Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
9Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
10Ashville, NC
 *Comprised of Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties. All source locations are metropolitan statistical areas.
 Source: U.S. Census Bureau data compiled by TIP Strategies

Half of the top 10 sources of workers moving to Dayton were other metro regions in Ohio.

In addition to the pandemic-related economic disruptions, the region’s workforce is affected by the shift to remote work and changing attitudes toward jobs.

“Many workers in the pandemic recovery market are looking for meaningful careers, whether that means an improvement in working conditions that allows more time with family and friends or embarking on a new job with better wages and advancement opportunities,” the report says.

It’s unclear if the region will see a net gain or loss from the shift to remote work, but the report says it could create opportunities for people to live here and access jobs and training outside the region.

Workers moving to Dayton-Kettering Metropolitan Statistical Area 2010-2020*
RankRegional source of incoming workers
1Springfield, OH
2Canton-Massillon, OH
3Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR
4Indiana (non-MSA)
5Akron, OH
6Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH and PA
7Rochester, NY
8Toledo, OH
9Muncie, IN
10Rockford, IL
 *Comprised of Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties. All source locations are metropolitan statistical areas except Indiana.
 Source: U.S. Census Bureau data compiled by TIP Strategies

Communities and companies can succeed with talent retention and attraction efforts, particularly if they are consistent in messaging and effective in getting that message out, said Larry Inks, clinical associate professor of management and human resources at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business.

“The way you engage people is by being authentic, by giving people the opportunity to do meaningful work. Let them see the impact of their job, why they are important to the company,” Inks said.

“That’s important for attraction and retention in a company, and it’s important for attraction and retention in a community.”

People mulling a job offer or move to a community will weigh the “value” or compelling reason for making the decision and the “total rewards,” such as compensation, mission, location, culture and quality of coworkers or neighbors.

So a region like Dayton might not be able to compete for people who want to live and work in a metropolis like New York City, but it can attract someone who wants to raise a family where housing is more affordable and wages go further.

It is wise to focus on both retention and attraction, he said.

“Organizations, in many cases, they spend more time thinking about how to bring in new employees than they do on ‘how do we retain our people,’” Inks said. “Retention is the flip side of the coin. If you retain your people, you don’t have to go out and find new ones. I think for communities it is the same thing.”

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