Catch 22

State officials reported last week that housing and local employment issues resemble the proverbial debate: which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Answering that question is no joke as it relates to economic development. Local businesses and industries need workers to maintain and expand their operations, though the workforce they are trying to recruit needs available housing before they can say yes to a job offer.
So, which one should a proactive community focus on? Expanding the workforce, or creating more housing? We need to do both, is the short answer, and these days we need them simultaneously. It’s a Catch 22 challenge that seems to be getting progressively worse here in Hamilton County and across our entire state, which is both enjoying and battling the impact of 3.5 percent unemployment.
During a two-day blitz last week here in Hamilton County, business consultants with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development sought input on these factors to help them decide what programs and potential legislation DED should support moving forward. From the state level, their goal is to help provide financial resources, tax incentives and leads/contacts that might help foster economic growth.
While those efforts are appreciated, folks in this part of the world prefer to control their own destiny as much as possible and there are visible examples in our community as to why.
Aurora has for many years had two housing development entities -- the for-profit Aurora Construction Enterprises, and the not-for-profit Aurora Housing Development Corporation -- working behind the scenes to build spec houses and in effect prime the pump for local housing subdivisions. ACE and AHDC have had a tremendous impact, helping in some way with many of Aurora’s 351 new single-family homes built over the past 23 years.
It’s that kind of visionary thinking and volunteer-based leadership that has made this community what it is. The challenge now is to keep those homes affordable for the kind of workers area businesses are trying to recruit.
The good news, which we shouldn’t dismiss, is that it’s far better to be facing these kinds of challenges than the alternative, where a declining business climate starts a downward spiral. Nonetheless, it’s frustrating for local business and industry leaders, many of whom have reported tempering possible expansion plans due to a shortage of quality job candidates.
Author Joseph Heller got it right when he wrote, “That’s some catch that Catch 22.”
Kurt Johnson

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