After 20 years of helping companies and employees find workers and work, Shirl Boyce is about to begin his own step in that direction. The 64-year-old is leaving the Boise Valley Economic Partnership to take a position with Boise State University. Boyce, whose job at the Partnership included attracting new companies to the Treasure Valley, will be the new development director for the Selland College of Applied Technology. On his last day with the Partnership, Boyce sat down with BW to talk about why Boise needs smarter workers, and why magazine articles alone won't draw new companies.
Boise Weekly: With all of the hype Boise gets, why do we need 'economic developers?'
It only lasts for a short amount of time. Go back and look at last year; we were Number One in Forbes [ranking for places to do business.] This year, we're Number Four.
You don't live or die by those things. They are indicators. Even though we get that kind of stuff, the message doesn't necessarily get to the right people, and that's the people who are making the decisions.
You have two choices when you're dealing with your economy: You can be reactive or proactive. If you're reactive, you suffer the wages of getting buffered about by the storm. You can figure that 6 to 8 percentage of your area's jobs can be lost at any time. And that's a bunch. And you have no control over it. They are business decisions.
We're not just looking at businesses outside the area. We're also looking to assist, where possible, our existing businesses and their expansions. Keep in mind, one fundamental truth is that our best companies are often the best targets for our competitors. Our businesses here are being marketed all the time for expanding.
Yet it's hard to imagine something like Micron picking up and moving.
If you go back to the 1990s, when we were involved in the competition for that $1.3 billion Micron piece that actually went to Lehi, Utah, the Italians were vying for that, and they threw several hundred million dollars of incentives down on the table. It shows you how big those things are.
Let's talk about workforce development, I'd like to touch on that a little bit.
You should touch on it a whole bunch. It's serious. The demographers have been telling us since 1986 that we are going to suffer huge, huge deficits when it comes to workforce. And it's largely because we've got the Baby Boomers retiring. There just aren't any cohorts behind them. It's sheer numbers.
So we're really running headlong into that.
We all love the technology, but what's happening is that with technology comes efficiency. Especially in the manufacturing area. You find much more being done with fewer people. Idaho, up until just recently, was a natural resources state: Wood products, mining and agriculture. And look at what technology has done in each of those industries. The people that you do have working there, have to have higher skills. One of the big, big points that is not recognized in this, is that almost 46 percent of our jobs today in this country do not require a four-year academic degree. But it requires some sort of post-secondary certification, such as you would find in a technical school.
What about recent studies that show that while unemployment is low, the jobs aren't necessarily high-wage jobs?
You need both. The thing to keep in mind is that there's still a need for--and this is probably an oversimplification--you still have to have people that build the roads, that build the facilities within which all this is done.
When you talk about wages, boy this is a really sticky wicket, because I don't want to say for a moment that someone doesn't have the right to make a good living, because they do. They all do. But you have to bring something to the table. You can't have someone with no skills enter a job and make huge dollars. It's not going to happen. The worker has to bring something to the table as well.