Businesses in the Buffalo Niagara region are still struggling to find and keep qualified workers.
It was the top concern businesses cited in a survey of Buffalo Niagara Partnership members, ahead of even taxes and regulations, said Dottie Gallagher, the business group's president and CEO.
"What is painfully clear and obvious is that workforce and talent is truly job one for us," Gallagher said at the Partnership's annual report to shareholders on Thursday at KeyBank Center. "And in the world of economic development, people who are looking to locate companies are looking for talented workforces. So this is the mission."
Fifty percent of members reported workforce development was a "pain point" for them, and 75% said it was either a pain point now or would be in the next two to five years. An underlying issue: an anticipated wave of retirement of skilled workers creating a void.
In its next fiscal year, which starts July 1, the Partnership will devote 20% of its budget to workforce development efforts, compared to just 6% as recently as 2015, Gallagher said.
Businesses are also looking for help in diversifying their workforce, Gallagher said. Half of the survey respondents reported struggling to achieve a diverse workforce.
"I think that people are truly, truly beginning to understand that diverse workforces create better results," she said. "When you have people who have different life experiences and points of view, you get better thinking. Quite frankly, young professionals want to work in diverse environments."