McHenry County economic growth hinges workforce-job base parallel

Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

McHenry County industries employed federal Worker Innovation and Opportunities Act, fom July 2015 through June 2016, in a variety of professional and skilled labor positions. (Photo courtesy of McHenry County Workforce Network)

Matching unemployed members of the unemployed McHenry County workforce to jobs suited to their specialized skills proved to be an underlying trend in maintaining the county’s economic growth outlook, according to the updated McHenry County Labor Report, which spans the first three months of 2017.

In addition to showing the county’s unemployment dropping to 4.2 percent, well below the state’s 4.7 percent and the nationwide 4.2 percent average, keeping the jobs from migrating elsewhere must be addressed.

“We have an aging population, but a lot of millennials where healthcare is a big issue,” said Jeffery Poynter, the McHenry County Workforce Network Board’s director. “There are a lot of professionals in the county, but not a lot of tech jobs, for instance, so they work elsewhere but live here. There’s an aging workforce in manufacturing, so where is the new blood coming from, so to speak?

“These are important questions, since the workforce is a major component to the economic development in the county,” he said. “What is being done to increase that population, and where can we help them identify and assist them as job seekers, with skills that are going to be a current connect with an employer?”

The Woodstock-based agency compiled a fall 2016 labor report itemizing demographic data, as well an industry trends, and explaining common terminology Data indicated that the cost of living is 14.5 percent higher in McHenry County than the nationwide average at 100 percent. The cost of living index estimates the relative price levels for consumer goods and services. The result is a measure of relative purchasing power, when applied to wages and salaries. The county’s average wage is $43,480 while the state average is $55,099.

The labor report charted the county’s economic strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for future growth. The network board initiates a variety of programs and services for employers and job seekers seeking help in connecting, and are part of a nationwide grant-funded system. “The job search résumé of someone might highlight skills that aren’t in demand. They qualify for grants to bump the education in fields that businesses are really looking for.

“We get feedback telling us what services they would like to see expanded, or presented,” he said. “Manufacturing seems to be the biggest employer in the county.”

A May 9 presentation to the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation in Crystal Lake, reinforced the aspect of building a labor force that will keep and import jobs to the county.

“The indicators show that McHenry County is doing better in relation to other counties in the state,” said Charlie Eldrege, the corporation’s president. “Although a big problem is the lack of a state budget. Without one, the economic structure is eventually going to collapse.

“The migration of people out of the county is more of a cyclical problem but with the unemployed and the underemployed are being regenerated now, along with training at the McHenry County College for jobs at businesses where having personnel was previously an issue. By and large, businesses are doing pretty good in the county.

Eldrege is also the governing board’s Administrator for the Harvard-Woodstock-McHenry County enterprise zone, established in Dec. 2014, as a means of jumpstarting commercial growth. The Enterprise Zone Program was designed to jumpstart growth in economically depressed areas through assistance to businesses, by qualifying them for possible local and state tax incentives. The goal is to attract commercial and industrial entities to the designated sites to create jobs and a tax base.

The zone was one reason the Harvard-based Pedigree Ovens remained in Illinois, rather than relocate.

“They were set to leave, and the state of Wisconsin had made some very attractive offers to the company,” Eldrege said. “It took cooperation between the state of Illinois, McHenry County, and the city of Harvard to retain them. This is all interrelated, job growth and industry, and we’re doing pretty well in the county.”