my latest in the Coloradoan: A good job is hard to find, but so are good employers

A good job is hard to find.

Nationally, more than 12.3 million people are unemployed, with 38 percent of them without paid tasks for at least 6 months. The broadest official unemployment measure, which includes people working part-time but wanting to work full time and others who are “marginally attached to the labor force,” is 15.4 percent.

The local story is not as bleak. Last year Larimer County added 5,500 jobs, and total employment is at an historical high. Yet while these new jobs have gradually nudged the county’s unemployment rate downward, 11,000 of our neighbors and we are actively looking for a job and can’t find one.

Despite the improving local employment picture, inflation adjusted household incomes have stagnated over the past decade. The number of uninsured adults has increased. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 8 local kids lives in poverty.

Clearly, the national and local economic recovery from the Great Recession remains tepid.

Because global economic forces are so mighty, local policy makers have few truly effective tools for improving a region’s economic health. They are not, however, powerless. Elected officials can work closely with businesses to create an environment that enhances economic vitality while preserving core community values.

Which brings me to Woodward Inc.

Currently, the City and DDA are working with the iconic company in its efforts to establish a new global headquarters near Old Town. Most likely, the DDA would expand its boundaries to encompass the proposed property, making Woodward eligible for tax increment financing.

Such a move would provide new energy to that part of Fort Collins, although certainly at the expense of the “open space” currently afforded by a golf course. It would also bring more people downtown, adding to its vibrancy.

Although the City can partner with Woodward, I am not suggesting granting permission to treat the Poudre River as a cesspool. Nor am I advocating that the mayor park an armored car full of cash at Woodward’s receiving dock. The New York Times recently ran a compelling story about how often economic development incentives end up being ineffective, and Fort Collins learned from Celestica how fleeting hopes can be.

Yet it is important to remember that Woodward is a rather unique entity. Originally wanting to enjoy the benefits of being near a fledgling CSU, the company is now firmly entwined in the City’s fabric. Unlike many of the region’s large employers, its leaders have established deep-roots. They sit on the boards of local non-profits, send their kids to Poudre schools, and drink beer at CooperSmith’s.

Despite these ties, it is indisputable that such companies can be “bought.” Every state in the US would love to have the more than 1,000 high paying jobs that Woodward provides. They would love to have a company that allows hard workers without a college degree to earn a good living.

While it’s true a good job may be hard to find, it’s often even harder to find a good employer. Let’s not lose the ones we have.

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