Just last week I was speaking with an industrial developer relative to bringing some jobs to this area. I asked him what large scale manufacturers want in a site.
He said there were seven items mentioned to him recently as he was talking to the chief operating officer of a large multi-national firm.
First on the list was the land itself - all available, zoned for heavy industry, deforested and graded, ready to build, gas, electric, water, and sewer in place, and at least 15-20 acres for a 250-300 person shop.
Second was labor. He needed a tiered wage scale and benefit package ready to go. He didn't care if the shop was unionized or not, the important thing to him was that there would be no negotiations. He wanted a firm agreement ready to sign.
Third, the demographics of the labor force and skill-sets contained in the labor force had to be readily available and up to date. This COO was familiar with Alpena and said the labor force is centered in the 45-54 years old age group. Stunningly, he said that in four years more, this age group would not be attractive to a prospective employer as they would then be 49-58 years old. The older the labor unit, the more it costs for medical, pensions, and other benefits.
Fourth, incentives from the state, city, county, and township should be in a position to be signed into effect. These incentives would include such items as 25-year tax abatements and all of the other incentives offered by competing units of government.
Fifth was the infrastructure. The roads, rail, and ports have to be ready to go. If dredging, resurfacing, and rail-bed improvements had to be done, they should be done in the preparation stage.
Sixth, Alpena High School and Alpena Community College must have worker training programs ready to be implemented upon demand.
Seventh, our state legislators, in combination with all of the local politicians at the city, county, and township must be supportive and a part of the team. Think about that at candidate forums this fall.
Notice the underlying thrust in all of the seven points is to have a shelf-ready jobs development product for a potential employer. It's also necessary to have a bunch of smiling, welcoming faces at the bottom of the jetway ready to make a deal.
I think chamber Director Jackie Krawczak could be right when she said last week she didn't expect to see a large employer come to Alpena. We don't have any of the seven above points "shelf ready," nor do we have a consensus that I'm aware of among local and state officials.
So get this, we never are going to get that consensus unless you start talking to your elected officials about jobs. We have had 16 years of mayors who believed a pretty town would prosper because it was so nice looking that we could pick and choose industries we wanted here. That didn't work.
By asking a large manufacturer what they wanted, we now have a very definitive answer. "Pretty" isn't it. Zoning, labor agreements, worker demographics, incentives, transportation, training, and political consensus are the ingredients needed to bake the jobs cake.
Do you want to help the chef? Set the timer for 48 months. Tick, tick, tick ...