Why the US Economy Needs Immigrants… and Where.

Earlier this month, President Trump made headlines by repeatedly claiming that the United States is “full”—suggesting that, therefore, new immigrants to the US would no longer be welcome.

Journalists, commentators, and others were quick to take issue with the statement. Some argued on philosophical grounds. Others took issue on a more factual basis. In one response, reporters from The Upshot at the New York Times—in characteristically astute form—pointed out that, between declining birth rates and an aging population, prime-working age population is already decreasing in many places around the US. Without immigration, these places will face a decline in their labor force in coming decades.

In other words, not only is the US (and specifically, the US labor force) not full, many places are in serious need of migration.

A few days later, President Trump further confounded critics with the suggestion that migrants to the US would be sent to so-called sanctuary cities (a ubiquitous but legally informal phrase that has been self-designated by many cities, including many of the country’s largest, as well as many counties and several states).

In response, residents and representatives of many of those jurisdictions proudly suggested that they would be happy to accept immigrants. (I was glad to read that Pittsburgh’s own Mayor Peduto said as much.) But amidst all of the rhetoric, I worry that we are collectively paying woefully insufficient attention to important economic issues that underlie the conversation about immigration and workforce.

At Fourth Economy, we encounter workforce issues throughout our work. Attracting, retaining, and preparing the workers of tomorrow is a challenge that touches nearly all of our clients, from the Agricultural System of West Virginia to the Metro Hartford, Connecticut, and throughout the US. The age distribution of the workforce is also an important factor in the framework of our Community Index.

But communities around the country are not affected equally by this ongoing challenge. One way to measure the likely challenges of future labor force needs is to look at the concentration of an area’s labor force by age. The map below shows the percentage of the resident labor force in each US county that is above 55 years-old—that is, people who are active in the labor force, but who are older than what might generally be considered prime working age (25 to 54 years-old).

Communities where the current labor force is highly concentrated among older workers are likely to face increasing economic struggles in coming years. As older workers retire, there will likely be too few younger workers to take their place. Growth will decrease. Employers in some industries will compensate through automation. In other industries, remote work will become more common. But many employers in hard-hit areas will likely relocate or close.

The confounding bit is that the communities facing labor shortages are generally not the “sanctuary” communities where the President is threatening to send more new immigrants. They are instead more likely to be rural, and politically conservative communities, as shown in the scatter plot below. (Whereas many of the countries largest, youngest, and most rapidly growing cities are sanctuary cities.) Indeed, among the counties with greatest share of their labor force over 55 years-old—what we might reasonably designate the communities most in need of new workers—92% voted for president Trump in 2016.

Those facts on the surface are not that surprising. Sure, “Trump Country” is populated by rural communities with older labor forces. But the economic implications are being glaringly overlooked. What is being used to threaten to one part of the country is, in fact, a significant threat to the economic vitality of another.

Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US

We see the Fourth Economy Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement.

We envision using the information:

  • When developing an RFP to create specific strategies to improve your community
  • To lead community discussions about areas of relative strength and weakness
  • To inform presentations to stakeholders about the state of your community
  • To compare your community to top ten communities of the same size

The Index model incorporates twenty different indicators in the areas of Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.

What do we mean by each of these?

  • Investment: active businesses, access to capital, and investment in physical infrastructure
  • Talent: a growing workforce with education and job skills, equipped to excel in high-wage opportunities
  • Sustainability: transportation, land use, and environmental conditions that promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier planet
  • Place: affordable housing and transportation options that provide access to recreational and cultural amenities
  • Diversity: personal and professional interaction across lines of race/ethnicity, age, and wealth

Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US (50K – 150K)

  1. Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls)

Minnehaha County, South Dakota, has strengths in Place, Investment, and Talent, and has experienced a whopping 8% growth in population over the past five years. Along with the increase in the population of Minnehaha and the Sioux Falls area, the county also has a robust business community and has seen increasing development to meet demand, as illustrated by the blossoming communities around Sioux Falls.

Continue reading “Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US”

5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits

Overmoyer-MLBIt’s All About the Distance. Or is It?

Sure, power contributes to your ability to hit a home run, but it’s also the mechanics of how you swing that can take the ball farther. Many community and economic development initiatives throw a lot of money (power) at an issue without an understanding of the underlying issues and opportunities. A better approach is to use community input combined with real-time data to better understand the current local mechanics and what forms of investment (money and time) it will take to support change. Continue reading “5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits”

How the Private Sector is Paying for Public Innovation

Evans-Blog-20160405City governments have experienced increasing financial strain over the past several decades – pension payments are coming due, infrastructure needs replacing, and the cost of providing social services is increasing. This leaves little room for local governments to get on the social finance innovation train that has been sweeping the private sector for the past few decades, where bright minds have been exploring social enterprise, low-profit limited liability companies, impact investment, and more. However, many have recognized the importance of bridging the gap between private sector innovation and government, leading to organizations across the sectors investing time and money devising ideas that may fill this void. Continue reading “How the Private Sector is Paying for Public Innovation”

48 Hours in Pittsburgh with the Consulate General of Canada

Bernard-Blog-20160405To many Americans, Canada is our friendly neighbor to the north, known for an affable attitude, a passion for pucks and a penchant for strong beer.  What is perhaps less known is how critical trade with Canada is to the economy of the United States.  Consider:

  • Nearly 9 million U.S. jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada
  • Canada is the top export destination for 35 states
  • Canada is the number one supplier of crude oil, refined petroleum products, natural gas,
    and electricity to the U.S. as well as a
    leading supplier of uranium
  • 400,000 people cross the Canada–U.S. border daily

Source: http://can-am.gc.ca/can-am/index.aspx?lang=eng

Continue reading “48 Hours in Pittsburgh with the Consulate General of Canada”

Inspire Yes, But Act As Well

Coffee-Shop-1099Tis the season for annual conferences – that chance each year for trade groups to tout their accomplishments and relevancy. The Fourth Economy team attended our fair share. What we find scary is that while the workshops and keynotes are conveying the seismic changes occurring in our economy, change on the street, in our communities and programs, appear to keep on keeping on as if it were, oh say, 1999. Many of the metrics for growth we heard remain focused on absolute land development, job creation (regardless of type and cost) and more office space.   Continue reading “Inspire Yes, But Act As Well”

APA Pennsylvania Chapter Recognizes Fourth Economy Team

APA-Upper-LawrencevilleThe Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized Fourth Economy Consulting with a “Planning Excellence” award for its contributions in developing a Targeted Development Strategy for the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Upper Lawrenceville. The consulting team helped the community craft a neighborhood identity and a series of principles guiding future development to achieve the community’s long-term livability goals. Continue reading “APA Pennsylvania Chapter Recognizes Fourth Economy Team”

Which Trend is Your Community Experiencing?

Number-Five

Fourth Economy Consulting has turned five and has topped over 200 client engagements in that short period.  And by engagements, I mean that we have had the great fortune to partner with community leaders all over the country as they work to strengthen their organizations and communities. This experience has provided me with yes you guessed it, five notable trends that I wanted to share with you.  Continue reading “Which Trend is Your Community Experiencing?”

Ready, Set, Survey…

Survey-Tailgate

As summer BBQs turn to fall tailgates, how often do you find that neighborly backyard burger flipping leads to discussions on how great your town is or how much better it could be.  Sure there is always room for improvement, but ever wonder how those opinions and impressions sync-up with the facts.  Sometimes we are too hard on our own community when it may really be doing quite well, while other times it is heading for a cliff that nobody seems to notice or care.  In either case, gaining a better understanding of how impressions align with the facts is a good starting point for long-term strategic planning. Continue reading “Ready, Set, Survey…”

New Economic Realities for Communities Mean New (and More Sustainable) Approaches

Community-SustainabilityBy Joanna Nadeau, Director of Community Programs
Audubon International

For better or worse, many towns and cities are experiencing new economic realities. Around the country, communities that historically depended on manufacturing or farming for jobs are suffering, as those sectors continue a long term decline. Fourth Economy and Audubon International have a shared interest in assisting cities and local governments in addressing the challenges they face through sustainable solutions.

To be sustainable, a local economy must be two things: 1) diverse—that is, based on a wide range of profitable sectors—and 2) making the most of natural assets while protecting them for the future. Continue reading “New Economic Realities for Communities Mean New (and More Sustainable) Approaches”