When Macon County economic development officials met last week and decided the aging workforce was among the county’s most pressing problems, that was news to our ears. An aging population — and workforce — presents many challenges, but we don’t think employers need worry about finding workers to fill the few professional jobs that are available in this region.
The worry, according to officials, is that the aging workforce and subsequent retirees will require more services. OK, that much is a given. As folks retire, many do require social services and other government aid while not contributing taxes — in the form of payroll taxes — to pay for them.
But in many ways, this fear is a straw man argument. If good jobs are available, professionals and service sector employees will flock to the area to take them. This newspaper, in fact, advertised over the last couple of months for a job requiring a college degree that paid a modest salary. We were inundated with prospective employees, with resumes arriving from Washington, Arizona, New Hampshire and all points in between.
When a reporter for this newspaper went into a restaurant to interview some 33-year-old workers in Macon County, they agreed with this assessment - if jobs are available, people of their generation are used to relocating to find work. It’s the norm these days.
These young family men pointed out a more important truth that economic development officials should concern themselves with — making sure Macon County and Franklin are desirable places to live. They pointed out that amenities like restaurants and other places to socialize are important. They bemoaned the fact that a recreation bond failed, meaning there will be fewer places for their children and them — young families today are active — to go play. They stressed the importance of continuing to focus resources on downtown development.
Yes, the population is aging. We are all living longer and working longer. But Macon County and the rest of this region will benefit more from that demographic reality than they will suffer.
If we want workers when we need them, we just need to make sure we protect open spaces, invest enough so our downtowns remain vibrant and walkable, and invest in education and recreation. As long as our quality of life remains high, people will come to fill the open positions.