Earlier this week, the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation released "Building Bridges to Business: 2006 Business Retention Report." The study was conducted over the past six weeks in an attempt to determine how the area could attract and retain businesses.
While the businesses interviewed for the study differed in product and approach, all seemed to have the same struggle -- the local work force.
According to the comments made in this study, Payson does not have a diverse or skilled work force.
"Most of the local businesses are not satisfied with the availability, quality and stability of their work force," the study said.
Every employer interviewed struggled with recruitment and retention, and that struggle meant the difference between staying in the community or moving on to places where business was easier to conduct.
Our work force, it would seem, is a major linchpin in the future of the area's economy.
We believe the town leadership needs to look at this information with serious eyes and focus on a multi-armed approach to creating an environment where intelligent, hard-working young people not only want to work and live, but where it is economically viable for them to do so.
The first step is focusing on education. We need to be looking at the potential of Gila Community College as a place where our students can earn two-year degrees with transferable credits. But we also need to look beyond the community college. The town and local nonprofits should look for more opportunities to partner with Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University for research projects or for other satellite opportunities that would offer educational exposure to our young people.
And, as a community, we need to work at identifying talent among our young people when they are still in high school. We need to encourage that talent through mentoring, so that after they graduate from college, they know there are opportunities waiting for them back in their hometown.
The PREDC study showed that Payson has had little to no success attracting people between the ages of 20 and 45 to live and remain in this community.
"This can be attributed to the fact that much of the Payson area does not offer affordable housing nor does it offer an environment conducive to the lifestyle of a younger working-class generation," the study said.
Growing a work force is a complex undertaking and a circle that feeds itself. It involves attracting businesses that can pay wages that match the cost of housing in the area but also involves creating a culture that makes workers want to live in the community.
We are less than two hours from a major metropolitan area and our weather is 10 to 15 degrees cooler. We are near three national forests with great recreational opportunities. We have a lot going for us.
What we do not have is the infrastructure for high-tech companies to relocate to the area, and we do not have a viable, social town center with the ambience that attracts people nationwide to other small towns.
Grow talent from within and attract it from elsewhere and the companies will follow. Bring in the companies and the jobs, and the work force will follow.
This is the key to the economic future of Payson.