Less than a decade ago, Clinton County was an employment oasis. People from surrounding counties drove here to work. Now eight years after the DHL debacle, the economy is slowly improving. As you drive around, you see fewer vacant buildings and empty storefronts.
However, a closer look reveals a much different picture. You see things typical in an economically depressed area; more than half of available housing is rentals, buy here-pay here auto dealers, title loan stores, pawn shops, rent-to-own stores, thrift stores and a soup kitchen. County schools report that half their students receive some sort of public assistance. Schools now provide lunches during summer months. Children start school without pencils, crayons and other necessary tools needed to complete their work.
There are a few really good jobs, just not enough. A former Wilmington mayor claimed nearly 1,000 jobs were created in the past few years. If true, most of these were retail and fast food jobs paying near-poverty wages. It would be nearly impossible to raise a family on such a job. No doubt, some of these workers get government assistance.
A closer look also reveals a large number of low-paying factory jobs. A local factory recently post a help wanted ad. The starting wage is $11.65 an hour. Who can raise a family on these wages? One employer claims to be short of engineers for two years. Isn’t this self-inflicted? Pay above the industry standard if necessary.
Many employers suggest that prospective employees fail drug test. Maybe so; even more reason to take care of those who come to work every day, don’t complain, do their job efficiently and accurately, and go home to do it all over again the next day.
Young people are encouraged to go to college, yet how many college grads are working in the offices around the county with heavy debt, making little money?
One of the commissioners’ responsibilities is to raise the standard of living. One way to do that is through workforce development. While not directly involved with economic development, they appoint Port Authority members and an Economic Development Director. Much has been said about competing globally. I wonder if we are competing regionally.
We can and should once again become an oasis for employers and employees.