Economic and Workforce Development
Economic and workforce development issues are interrelated and encompass many other issues important to rural New York: education, poverty, agriculture and land use, and local and regional governance. The changing age and job structure in New York's rural communities are central to the findings of the Rural Vision Project.
One specific focus area for the reinvention of rural regions is innovation and entrepreneurship, which must be supported with collaborative support of government, education, and private sources.
Economic development can be encouraged by improving broadband infrastructure and access, using legislation and redirecting economic development resources; merging services and incentives to communities; and responding to communities' needs for credit through more responsive commercial lending services.
Leaders interviewed for the Rural Vision Project noted several goals for a successful future for the rural economy:
- Small business incubation/development/innovation
- Niche industry and niche markets for both industry and agriculture
- Cooperative efforts and regional coordination
- Tourism, such as eco-tourism, agri-tourism, cultural tourism
- Agriculture as form of economic development
- Benefits of buying locally
- Encourage entrepreneurship
- Overcome infrastructure barriers
Challenges to economic development include changing demographics and a lack of infrastructure, especially in high-speed telecommunications, public transportation, affordable housing, and access to health care and insurance.
Other concerns include:
- Issues of taxation on both an individual and business level
- Empire Zone program, as currently structured
- "The high cost of doing business" for small businesses
The rural workforce encompasses individuals in almost every walk of life. Rural workforce development research focuses most often on migrant farmworkers, rural youth, and individuals with disabilities, because of the specific challenges that these three groups pose and encounter.
The Rural Vision Project recommends that leaders concerned with a successful workforce create an interactive data-based website that connects and services education, business, employees, job seekers, and human services agencies; provide a career readiness certification series for the State; create a consortium of education and training providers able to respond to and develop materials for educational and training needs; and stabilize the workforce by examining immigration proposals and addressing language and cultural barriers between immigrants and local communities.
Leaders interviewed for the Rural Vision Project noted opportunities and research needs for a successful workforce:
- BOCES and community college opportunities
- Entrepreneurship programs
- Partnerships between local business and education including mentorships, internships, job shadowing, career fairs, etc.
- Comprehensive local/regional needs assessments
- Better communication networks to facilitate workforce development
- Education about workforce development grant opportunities
The U.S. Census Bureau (2005) reported that 30.1% of rural families had at least one member with a disability, compared to 28.5% of urban families. People whose disabilities make it difficult to drive can face severe limitations in traveling to work and participating in community activities.
The lack of a living wage and underemployment are barriers to establishing or retaining a quality workforce. Underemployment problems are compounded by high costs for housing, transportation, and healthcare/insurance. Additional challenges include:
- Structural barriers to workforce development and retention
- Changing age structure of rural communities due to out-migration by youth
- Lack of alignment between workforce needs and the public education system
- Disabled individuals' transportation challenges
- Lack of funding for research and start-up opportunities
- Barriers to existing small businesses and start-up operations
- Stigmas, labels, and negative perceptions
- Displaced workers and economic adjustment
- Language and other barriers for migrant farmworkers