The Ardmore Development Authority will soon have another tool in its arsenal for ongoing efforts to recruit and retain businesses.
Work has begun in Ardmore on a 26-week, $65,000 comprehensive labor study. While the results won’t be known for months, the findings will ultimately be used to chart the way forward for economic development in Ardmore.
The ADA approved the hiring of Site Selection Group, a Dallas based consulting firm, in September.
“A bulk of our business is corporate site selection… helping companies find the optimal location for whatever drives their organizational success, that is 90 percent of our business.” Josh Bays, Site Selection Group principal, said. “This assignment falls into the other 10 percent where on behalf of communities we offer objective assessments to help them be more competitive in not only recruiting new businesses but retaining and supporting existing business.”
Bays said the studies typically contain 2 phases. Phase one is an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to attracting and retaining corporate investments in regard to economic development and economic growth.
Bays said that part of phase one is developing an understanding of how the community and the economic development organizations can spend their resources attracting target industries, and making sure that target industries align with those strengths and weaknesses.
Phase 2 is a workforce analysis that examines a community’s ability to support those target industries, via training and education.
“Not only from immediate hiring needs, but also creating a pipeline of talent to support them on an ongoing basis,” Bays said.
After the holidays, the group plans to initiate a workforce survey that will rely heavily on community participation from the general public to go along with information currently being gathered from area businesses and community leaders. The analysis will also attempt to measure the area’s underemployment rates.
“Because unemployment is low, and the labor market is tight, quantifying the number, skill sets and demographics of people who are underemployed — essentially folks working part-time but want a full-time job or are overqualified for their positions — documenting and quantifying that is really important ammunition to help give comfort to companies looking to move to a market,” Chris Schwinden, Site Selection Group vice president, said.
Schwinden added that the analysis includes input for existing businesses in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in the community from the businesses’ perspective.
One area of note, according to Baye, is the facilities available at Southern Tech. Educational institutions like Southern Tech can provide additional value to a workforce by producing employment-ready, skilled workers by allowing students to learn a trade before  graduating from high school.
“We continually hear from our employers, both large and small, that they’re challenged in finding qualified workers to meet all of their needs,” Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, said. “Data is readily available… however, it’s not prescriptive at all… We felt the need to have someone who is well versed in such things to help analyze that data, to tell us how to dig deeper into those thing… It is a business recruitment and retention tool for us.”
Bates said the analysis will create a groundwork for identifying issues and opportunities in the area that will be directed toward actions to increase needed sections of the workforce or remediating areas of weakness by bringing area employees together with existing institutions to reinforce and improve the area’s workforce readiness.
“It’s a challenge that almost every community in the United States is facing. The workforce is tight,” Schhwinden said.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the national unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent, a 17-year low,. The AP reported earlier this week that the number of people collecting unemployment benefits fell to 1.89 million, a 44-year low. According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.4 percent, while Carter County continues to remain above the state and national levels at about 5 percent.
“We are arming the community with the information they need to put their best foot forward as it relates to attracting corporate investment,” Bays said. “We also identify the critical impediments to attracting and retaining corporate investment and put together a set of recommendations to overcome those.”
The group will deliver an action plan for Ardmore that will provide steps to enhance competitiveness when attempting to attract new business to the area while reinforcing efforts to retain and strengthen existing businesses.    
Bays said the recommendations could include  short-term solutions, taking 3-6 months, to longer-term solutions taking 3-5 years.
“Our goal is to come out with valid data and information, a proposed plan of action so that we are making informed choices going forward,” Bates said.