EDC, chamber release survey results
WILLMAR -- Finding qualified workers is a top concern for local business owners, according to a recent survey by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
WILLMAR - Finding qualified workers is a top concern for local business owners, according to a recent survey by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
They see labor skill gaps, and many are finding it difficult to attract workers at a competitive cost.
Overall, however, eight out of 10 saw Kandiyohi County as a good place to do business, and a majority said they plan to expand, build or add a new product or service within the next three years.
The survey represents a snapshot of what the county’s business owners are thinking, said Connie Schmoll, business development specialist with the Economic Development Commission.
“It’s one tool to use as we plan for the future,” she said.
The online survey, conducted this summer, is a first foray into learning what’s on the minds of local business owners. This fall, in a partnership between the Economic Development Commission and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, a series of face-to-face visits will be launched to keep the conversation going and create a stronger connection between the chamber, the EDC and local businesses.
The goal is to visit 100 businesses within 30 days, from mid-November to mid-December.
“No stone will go unturned,” said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to help us all do our jobs better.”
The online survey by the Economic Development Commission was sent to 640 businesses in Kandiyohi County this past summer. There were 152 surveys that were returned and 121 that were completed.
Small businesses with 20 employees or fewer accounted for the vast majority of the responses, Schmoll said. She noted that many of the respondents were long-established businesses, some with a history extending back to the 1800s or the first half of the 20th century.
Although most of the respondents expressed optimism about the future, the survey also uncovered areas of concern.
Nearly half were dissatisfied with their local property taxes. Demographic change, an aging population, and rules and regulations ranging from the minimum wage law to the Affordable Care Act also were identified as concerns.
One of the top worries, the local labor supply, has come up repeatedly over the past several months.
Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Economic Development Commission, said a record number of employers participated in a recent job fair, and much of the talk concentrated on what employers could do to target and train workers.
Low unemployment in Kandiyohi County is causing employers to feel the pinch more keenly, said Steve Rehnquist, the EDC’s executive director.
Workers also increasingly have options for where and how they work, he said. “Many people now can work where they want to instead of where they have to.”
Face-to-face visits with the county’s business owners will help shed even more light on the challenges and opportunities they face, Schmoll said.
For this phase, the EDC’s Business Retention and Expansion visitation program is joining forces with Grow Minnesota!, a similar state program that has been conducted locally for several years by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re trying to get all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Warner said. “We really think there’s an opportunity to show people we do work together.”
The personal business-to-business contact is key because it can help elicit information that might not otherwise be shared and provide an opportunity for businesses to make connections, he said. “Sometimes they just don’t know who the right person is to talk to to resolve a problem.”
It also will be a chance to support existing businesses, said Warner, noting that most of the business growth in Kandiyohi County will come from businesses that are already here.
“We don’t thank them enough for being here and doing what they do,” he said.
Volunteers are still being recruited for the face-to-face visits. Volunteers who can help are asked to call the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission at 320-235-7370 or the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce at 320-235-0300. Business owners who would like to receive a visit may call either number to be placed on the list.