Courier Staff Writer
Ottumwa’s new laborshed analysis shows thousands of people commuting into the city to work every day, which could prove to be a valuable tool in attracting businesses.
Paula Nissen, bureau chief for Iowa Workforce Development, gave a broad overview of the laborshed analysis of the Ottumwa area at Indian Hills Wednesday afternoon.
“We here in Ottumwa haven’t had one done since October 2008,” said Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation executive director David Barajas Jr. “That’s something we need to get back on track to do every two years.”
The analysis provides information for the workforce, employers and prospective employers to know how to attract workers and to know where the workforce is coming from, both geographically and demographically.
When Nissen asked the audience of Indian Hills staff how many knew what a laborshed was, only a few raised their hands.
“It’s similar to a watershed, where you have a basin where rivers, streams flow into one center,” Nissen said. “That’s what a laborshed is. It’s commuters coming into one center of employment.”
Employers in Ottumwa gave IWD the home Zip codes of their employees and from that information, IWD drew commuter maps. This aligned with a telephone survey of 18- to 64-year-olds about their backgrounds. The results of this survey was projected onto the entire laborshed.
“The unique thing about a laborshed study is that Iowa has it available,” she said. “No other state does. It’s a huge competitive advantage.”
A large chunk of the laborshed’s population — 20.1 percent — is currently employed but willing to change employment if the right opportunity comes along, which usually means higher pay.
“Don’t say the unemployment rate is so low because there’s nobody to work,” she said. “There’s always a pocket of people out there looking for a better job, a new job, a job, period.”
In the Ottumwa laborshed, workers are commuting in from as far as 50 miles away to work.
Of the 70 percent surveyed in the laborshed who are employed, 20 percent they would be willing to change jobs.
The analysis also shows that the laborshed has 10.9 percent unemployment, which is higher than Wapello County’s 6.9 percent unemployment rate according to December workforce data. This is because people in this category are not only those who have filed unemployment. It includes students who haven’t found a job and those who can’t find a job but have not filed unemployment.
Of those in the area who are employed, the top three areas of employment are manufacturing, education and health care and social services.
Of those who are willing to change employment, most would do so to earn more money, she said.
“For most of them, the most important reasons to change are job satisfaction, the next is benefits,” she said.
While there are thousands who commute in to Ottumwa every day, there’s also a chunk of Ottumwans — 13.6 percent — who leave for a job, primarily to Eddyville, Fairfield and Centerville.
Nissen said that percentage is actually fairly low in comparison to other laborsheds.
“It’s usually lower in more rural areas, but when you have a four-lane highway like you do, sometimes you see it raised,” she said. “But this is a good thing.”
Data generally discusses employment and unemployment, but there’s another important segment of the population: the underemployed.
Underemployment is measured in three ways: reduced hours (32 hours a week or less), lower income and mismatch of skills (training and education beyond what they’re currently doing).
In Ottumwa’s laborshed, 5.9 percent of workers are underemployed. And of those approximately 948 people, nearly 58 percent had education beyond high school.
“This analysis is really helpful when talking to prospective regions,” she said. “This is the bait. You can pull out the Ottumwa data and slice and dice it gradually for the employer.
“If I’m a manufacturer, I’d like to know about the area and what it has to offer, but this [the laborshed analysis] means the most to me. It means you’re paying attention to me, meeting my needs and identifying my needs.”