The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s (NCDoC) recently released Economic Development Strategic Plan calls for investment in children and working families as a way to build a more prosperous and resilient economy. The plan, First in Talent, recognizes that investing in North Carolina’s workforce is the key to a stronger economy for all North Carolinians.
We interviewed Chris Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), to talk about how family-friendly workplaces and child care support support workforce development, both now and in the future.
Of course, there are barriers – companies are experts at making a particular product or providing a particular service; they may not be as knowledgeable on what it takes to design a “family-friendly workplace” or even why it’s important for them to consider that approach as a employee recruitment and retention strategy. That’s where efforts like Family Forward NC can really help companies to figure out good solutions – especially smaller businesses that may not realize that some of these family-friendly workplace initiatives can actually be easier or more economical to implement than they realize.Chris Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
What was EDPNC’s role in the creation of the new strategic plan?
We appreciate how deliberate the North Carolina Department of Commerce has been about seeking a wide variety of stakeholder input as they developed this long-term strategic economic development plant. Given EDPNC’s close and frequent partnership with Commerce on our economic development mission, we were honored to be one of the stakeholders from whom Commerce asked for feedback and perspective on the issues addressed in the plan.
How will EDPNC play a role in carrying the plan out?
As you know, the strategic plan rightfully focuses on the single biggest issue in economic development: The importance of developing and maintaining a productive, diverse, and competitive workforce. Through our work on the state’s behalf to recruit new employers to the state as well as assist existing employers with future growth, we are hopefully contributing to the creation of employment opportunities that become available for North Carolina’s workforce.
At the same time, through our marketing efforts – be they aimed at a tourism/visitation audience, business decision-makers looking at where to expand next, or skilled professionals looking at where to move to – we can hopefully play a role in attracting new residents to the state, which helps deepen the pool of talent available to our employers.
Why is it important to our economy to ensure that child care and family supports are available to North Carolinians?
“Workforce support” is an issue that doesn’t get the attention it should; just like educational attainment or experience, the availability of workforce support is one of those factors that can oftentimes determine the ability of each individual to participate meaningfully in the economy as part of the labor force. For example, even if someone has a relevant degree or applicable experience that an employer is seeking, let’s say that individual has no access to a cost-effective, quality child care provider. All of a sudden, now that individual may be choosing between taking a particular job or staying home to tend to their child. Minimizing the number of individuals forced to choose between these two options is one strategy for ensuring employers have as large a workforce as possible to hire from. That’s good from an economic development standpoint, not to mention all the benefits to the child of receiving quality care, education, etc.
What does having and encouraging more family-friendly workplaces mean to the state’s economy, especially as we continue to work through COVID?
It goes back to the question of how do we make sure that individuals who want to work can do so without feeling like they have to sacrifice on things like quality child care for their kids or safeguarding their own health. Family-friendly benefits like sick leave have become even more important now that we’ve all seen how something unforeseen like COVID can cause people to get very sick or to have to take care of sick dependents and thus miss out on long stretches of work. Obviously, companies have to balance profitability against all the other costs of running a business. That said, I suspect most businesses know that investing in their employees – whether that means training or a good benefits program or some type of child care provision – actually makes them more competitive as a business, because they’re able to attract and retain the best people they need to be successful in their industries. Every company in every industry depends on their human capital to stay ahead of the competition, and so employers whose policies prioritize their people can really differentiate themselves in the ever-fiercer contest for talent.
What do you hear from employers about their concerns related to attracting and keeping talent (now and in the future)? How does child care and family-friendly workplaces help to meet critical infrastructure needs?
Every employer in just about every industry – whether here in North Carolina or elsewhere in the country – is facing challenges getting, not to mention keeping, enough qualified people for the positions they’re trying to fill. And the longer that goes on, the more economic growth we’re missing out on because companies can’t produce enough of the goods or services that the market is demanding. So I would say most employers we engage with are looking for any kind of help they can get, be it from community colleges who can help upskill potential workers or from implementing solutions – like child care and family-friendly workplaces – that can help them differentiate as an employer that others will want to work for.
Of course, there are barriers – companies are experts at making a particular product or providing a particular service; they may not be as knowledgeable on what it takes to design a “family-friendly workplace” or even why it’s important for them to consider that approach as a employee recruitment and retention strategy. That’s where efforts like Family Forward NC can really help companies to figure out good solutions – especially smaller businesses that may not realize that some of these family-friendly workplace initiatives can actually be easier or more economical to implement than they realize.