WILMINGTON — In the wake of Amazon’s choice to go elsewhere for an air hub, the county commissioners’ discussion Wednesday with the local business development director was wide-ranging, touching on the area’s workforce, quality of life and housing stock.
Clinton County Business and Economic Development Director Bret Dixon said the workforce size here was an issue for Amazon early on, and that company officials advised those who wanted the online retailer to site its air freight hub in Wilmington that they needed to be looking at the workforce piece.
“Did we present it properly? Yes. Did we work through the [workforce] issues? Yes. If they come back could we fill the workforce [needs]? Yes,” Dixon told commissioners.
It is Dixon’s impression that an upper-level Amazon executive from the beginning picked up a perception of a lack of an available workforce during that executive’s first trip to the Wilmington Air Park in late 2015. Local, regional and state officials “worked very hard to overcome” that first impression, said Dixon.
In addition, Dixon feels that Amazon officials worried that if their air hub operations were to fail here, it would devastate a small community a second time.
Clinton County Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed said if Clinton County does have “potential deficits” in some regards such as workforce or housing, then the question needs to be asked, “What are we doing now to improve in those areas?”
Clinton County Commissioner Brenda K. Woods said one of the main things that keeps getting brought up is the local workforce — whether the topic is existing employers that currently have job openings, or of Amazon not coming because of a perception the area doesn’t have the necessary available workforce.
Dixon said local officials have a good resource they contract with for such concerns — named Workforce Solutions Unlimited.
As for adding to the housing that’s available, building a house is a free market enterprise, Dixon said.
Clinton County Commissioner Patrick Haley said if jobs come, people might be surprised at how quickly new houses also would show up.
On quality of life, Dixon said it was not the decisive factor for new businesses that have located here. More important to these companies, he said, were workforce and available properties.
He added he thinks families are drawn to reside in places that have “good schools, no drugs, safety, good quality communities.”
The Amazon decision announced last week spurred Nathan Collett to attend Wednesday’s commissioners session. He had a list of eight questions he posed in an earlier email to the Clinton County Port Authority and to commissioners.
Among the questions, Collett asked why the Port Authority, which owns the Wilmington Air Park, holds its monthly public meetings at 9 a.m. on a weekday when most blue-collar workers — the ones most affected by the Port’s actions, he said — cannot attend.
He also wondered, “Why was it ever allowed, when we had one of the largest retailers in the U.S. looking to operate in our backyard, for the pilots to go on strike? Who failed to meet pilot demands and why?”
In his email Collett, who with his father operates Pot-Luck Greenhouse in Clinton County, stated: “Please help myself, and the community at large, understand why an investor, with as many jobs as Amazon offered, and a 50-year contract, were not incentivized to remain where the jobs were needed the most, right here in Clinton County.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.