As the Chesterfield Resource Workforce Center opens at the Chesterfield Airpark, it’s an important reminder of what it takes to build a good workforce and keep the young and the brightest.
In an interview this month with County Administrator James J.L. “Jay” Stegmaier, the Village News asked Mr. Stegmaier what it takes to attract and sustain a viable workforce.
During a recent trip to Denver he said the many leaders in attendance heard a lot about how their adjacent jurisdictions came together to build a baseball stadium, a performing arts center, a downtown pedestrian street environment and a rapid transit system.
“In each case, a hand would go up and say how did you get this done? And the answer would be: a referendum and sales tax.
“Other cultural metro areas are attracting young professionals, engineering grads and science grads – and when you ask people like this, where do you want to live; the story is, and we’re hearing it over and over again, these young people pick a place they want to live and then they look for a job.” Stegmaier said.
He said that when he was entering the workforce, you looked for a job first and then moved to wherever you got the job. But today, young people right out of college move to Boston, Seattle, Denver; these are the places they want to go. He said, “It doesn’t make sense because we’re a great place for young professionals; we’re really wonderful here.
“I’m just really surprised and stunned that [in other places] you can seemingly throw anything under the sun to a sales tax increase referendum and the citizens really come together,” Stegmaier said. “I just really can’t see that happening in Richmond.”
He said that young people are so into lifestyle, whether it’s a baseball stadium, a pedestrian walkway up to a community arts center, or just a way to get there – like light rail. The problem is, compared with cities like Denver, Chesterfield has a hard time passing a school bond referendum.
“We have to be better than anyone else when attracting these professionals, so we have to get them from somewhere else and I think, wow, we have to get them from somewhere else?
“My wife and I went out to dinner with a couple of friends. He’s a senior-level person with an engineering firm here. He says, ‘Here’s the problem – we can’t get any engineers to come to Richmond for anything. But I’ve got guys here in Richmond who are ready to move up and I can put in charge of my Denver office and I can’t get them to leave Richmond.’ You get here you get the quality of life, you get settled with your family. You got fantastic schools and you look at a place like Denver and you say that’s not a place I want to raise my family.”
Does attracting a high quality workforce come down to quality of life and the lifestyle of a particular area? Young people like an urban lifestyle. Look at the boom going on in downtown Richmond. People like to walk to work, play and eat at the many restaurants.
Stegmaier said, “How do we provide that kind of lifestyle here in Chesterfield?”
“But we can’t lose sight of the goose that’s laying the golden eggs for us, which is good quality of life, a great school system, easy commutes, all of those things. So what we have to do, as a region, is what has made Richmond economically successful,” Stegmaier continued. “We’re not a Seattle or an Austin but you look around, our unemployment is low, but how do we add to that and attrack young professionals? The professionals we have that are leaving the area, like the girl from Chester who started the brewery; there’s a good example. A great Chesterfield citizen who is now a successful business person somewhere else.”
He added, “There’s a market here so why do some here have to end up in California. There is an effort, you know we’re working through; the Capital Region Collaborative that is developing models and processes that will engage young people, get them to Richmond and then keep them here.”
“A very simple thing, internships, if you have seen some of the stuff that some of the companies are doing with that, like some of the lawfirms, they bring them to town; they’ll wine them and dine them, and show them the city.”
Is there a second level to keeping interns here? How does one turn a Richmond or a Chesterfield into an Austin, Denver or Seattle?
“We’ve been working with SportsBackers for a couple of years now to build up sports tourism in the county, and we had the dedication at Pocahontas of the mountain bikers race center, being one of 12 in the world,” Stegmaier said. “My perspective on that is that cities that have an active outdoor lifestyle are very attractive to young people.
Those cities [we have been discussing] have very active outdoor lifestyles. They also have very urban lifestyles and attractive food scenes, which Richmond is rated very highly. But I see two things around the active outdoor lifestyle movement and we’ve been working very closely with SportsBackers on it.”
Stegmaier added that Richmond, having an active riverfront, was rated one of the top outdoor scenes.
“Those types of things will help attract young people – an active lifestyle and active living. The other side of that is when central Virginia becomes known as the most active and healthiest place in the country, we’ve met our goal. That’s when we begin to attract corporations. That’s when we become more attractive. The other side of that is when you look at anybody’s budget – what is the most important thing – healthcare.
“So if we can demonstrate that an active living lifestyle is generating lower costs for healthcare then it becomes a bottom line factor for businesses. I think that helps us with economic development.” Stegmaier said.