By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Otsego County has more jobs than workers to do them.
That message surfaced from a number of presenters at today’s Pathways to Prosperity, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Workforce Summit at SUNY Oneonta’s Morris Hall:
- Madhuril Kommareddi, Governor Cuomo’s new Workforce Development director, appointed in May, reported the Upstate unemployment rate is 3.8 percent – 4 percent is considered “full employment.” With that in mind, she said, the focus needs to be on “employer-driven skills,” training people for specific skills for jobs that aren’t being filled.
- “There are a lot of jobs to fill, and not a lot of candidates to fill them,” said Perry Dewey, DCMO BOCES superintendent, who served on a panel with two other BOCES’ superintendents, Nick Savin and Sandra Sherwood. Within 25 miles of Sidney, Dewey reported, there are 800 available jobs, and 20 percent of workers are due to retire within five years.
- “Our challenge now is our low unemployment rate,” echoed Christian Harris, the state Department of Labor’s market analyst for Otsego County. He also reported that the number of jobs available in the county has dropped from 26,000 to 22,000, although economist now view the county as a “job growth” area.
Nonetheless, the gathering of 120 employers – up from 100 last year at the first summit, held at The Otesaga – was not downbeat.
Al Cleinman, who runs Cleinman Performance Partners, the Oneonta-headquartered national consultancy to the optometry profession, renewed his call for “knowledge workers,” a call that electrified last year’s summit. “In 30 years, we have not earned a single dime in Otsego County,” he said. With a $1.5 million annual payroll, “we are a net importer of income.”
He ticked off a list of similar knowledge-based businesses, from the colleges to healthcare to financial services. “Otsego County is full of knowledge businesses,” he said, but added, “I would suggest to you, it’s not enough.”
Small steps can have a big impact, he continued: If the county could just retain 2 percent of the annual graduates from SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College – 26 people – that would convert into 414 “knowledge workers” over decades who – as Cleinman Performance Partners is doing – could generate millions imported from elsewhere.
He ended his presentation by leading a brainstorming session among attendees – “high quality Internet” was identified at several of the tables as a hurdle to the “knowledge economy” – and the findings will be posted on the Otsego Chamber’s Facebook page.
Kommareddi, a Yale Law School grad with experience in the Obama White House and the Clinton Foundation, reported the state Legislature appropriated “a historic amount” – $176 million – to workforce development over the summer.
What’s more – in contrast to CFA economic development grant applications, due every July – there are “no deadlines.” Applications for funding can be submitted when ready.
However, the new program is results-oriented, she said. Applications must have “targets” and projected “outcomes,” she said, noting that a $10 million application from New York City was recently rejected for lacking those very things.