BG, county need to present ‘welcoming’ face to attract workers

Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards talks about the need for a "welcoming" initiative.


BG Independent News

A few years ago it was the lack of jobs in this region that was troubling. Now it’s the lack of people to fill the jobs being created here. So Bowling Green officials are looking to team up with Wood County to attract immigrants and millennials to the region. 

Last week, the two entities discussed how to compete to attract those workers.

“Employment issues are still top of the line,” said Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. “It’s an issue we’ve all heard a million times.”

“The labor pool has shrunk a lot in Northwest Ohio,” and the population is aging, Gottschalk said during a meeting of the economic development commission on Wednesday.

“We just need more bodies,” he said.

Sue Clark, Bowling Green’s economic development director, hears the same concerns. Jobs Ohio recently released statistics showing 9,200 jobs available within a 20-mile radius of Bowling Green.

“Where will the people come from to fill these jobs,” she said.

Clark has listened to the worries of small “mom and pop” shops and of large manufacturers. “We all know this is a very serious issue.”

The headlines look great – about new companies moving into or expanding in the region. But the reality is that some of those new jobs siphon people away from existing businesses – which may lead to their closings or moving from the region.

“If they simply steal employees from our existing companies,” without those workers being replaced by others, “none of us want that,” Clark said.

So on Wednesday, Bowling Green officials shared their plan with county officials, in hopes that the entities could team up to attract workers to the region.

Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards introduced the Welcome BG Task Force concept of attracting, supporting and maintaining a workforce – both skilled and unskilled.

“We want to reach out and assist legal immigrants,” Edwards said.

“America desperately needs more workers,” he said.

Other cities have had success with such “welcoming” programs, like Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and Dayton, the mayor said.

Margaret Montague talks about need for employees in region.

“The immigrant community has been such a huge driver for new small businesses and filling manufacturing spots” in those cities, said Margaret Montague, head of the Welcome BG Task Force.

The U.S. Census showed Wood County’s population grew 3.65 percent from 2000 to 2010.  The number of youth and working age residents dropped by 3.8 percent. The number of those 65 and older grew 15.4 percent.

“We’re growing grayer every year,” Clark said.

So why not work together to attract young people, immigrants, and international students from BGSU to live in this region? Why not, they discussed, make the area known as “welcoming.”

Montague talked about the goals.

“We want to be growing and nurturing our citizenry,” she said. “What we’re really after here is the continued vitality and sustainability of our community.”

But how can this region compete with the rest of the nation, asked Rex Huffman, of the Wood County Port Authority.

“We all recognize the problem we have attracting people,” he said.

Montague said those “incentives” for getting people here are still in the working stages.

“Any collaboration ideas would be great,” she said. It was suggested that “welcoming” information on Bowling Green and Wood County could be presented to new citizens after citizenship swearing in ceremonies.

Clark agreed the competition is fierce.

“We’re competing with every other community in America to come here,” she said.

Part of the problem is just getting started.

“The research shows when people stay, they get other people to come,” Montague said.

“What does it take to welcome millennials. What does it take to welcome diverse people,” she said.

But the Welcoming BG Task Force was sure of one aspect. The work will not get far if they continue to do it on a volunteer basis.

Edwards suggested that several entities go together to pay for a part-time coordinator. He said a total of $38,000 could “jump start the initiative.” The partners could be the city of Bowling Green, Wood County, the economic development entities from both, plus Bowling Green State University.

Clark has offered space in her office for the coordinator.

Doug Miller, president of the county economic development commission board, said the proposal would be discussed.