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Arizona Needs a Job Competitiveness Plan

I've written a few times before about the need for Arizona to compete to attract high-paying jobs.  And that, with some exceptions, the highest-paying jobs are in industries that produce for consumption in Arizona and export to other states and countries (think jobs at Raytheon, for example).  The notable exception is jobs in the healthcare industry, which are typically higher-skill, higher-wage jobs.

There was good news, then, in the report issued last week by the Department of Commerce which forecast healthcare practitioners as one of the occupations with the highest growth in both the short term and the longer term.

Over the short term (2009-2011), Arizona is projected to have a net loss of about 36,500 jobs. But some occupations are forecast to grow, led by healthcare (projected to add 7,600 jobs), food preparation and serving (+5,500), sales and related occupations (+2,400), and life, physical, and social science occupations (+160).  However, losses in the other occupation groups will offset the gains.

Over the longer term (2008-2018), Arizona is projected to have a net gain of over 158,000 jobs. All but three of the 22 major occupation groups are forecast to have net job gains with healthcare again leading the way (+44,000). Construction and extraction occupations are expected to start to recover from heavy losses, but not enough for net gains over the 2008-2018 time period. The construction forecast is a net loss of about 16,000 jobs from 2008 to 2018.  Production occupations are also forecast to have net losses (-4,800). Management occupations are projected to be almost flat (-44). 

Yet according to the Arizona Republic, "Unless the state can lure or develop more companies that require highly paid, highly skilled workforces, a good number of the future jobs in the state are likely to be low-paying."  To be fair, in any economy there are more low-paying jobs than high-paying ones, but the point is nevertheless a good one: Arizona must be proactive in working to attract the kind of high-skill, high-paying jobs that can sustainably fuel our economy for decades to come.

I worry that it will be too easy to build a healthcare jobs bubble akin to the real estate jobs bubble.  As the Department of Commerce report points out, "Aging baby boomers will swell the ranks of the 65 and over population beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2029. The senior population will also continue to grow due to migration and as a result of increasing life expectancy. The magnitude of this growth will certainly spur changes in the occupational composition of the Arizona economy and increase the demand for health related occupations."  Which is fine, as long as we don't put all of our eggs in that one basket.

Instead, the Department of Commerce/Commerce Authority and the Chambers of Commerce should work together with Arizona's universities and other educators and industry leaders to formulate a job competitiveness plan for the state.  As one of my faithful readers has pointed out, every state wants the highest-skill, highest-pay jobs - so we've got to compete to get them. 

I imagine the job competitiveness plan would include ensuring a best-of-breed telecommunications infrastructure, educational programs that support the most innovative firms, and quality-of-life elements that attract those high-skill, high-wage workers.  Most well-run, successful companies have a plan for attracting and retaining top talent.  Arizona should have one, too.

What's your take?  Write a comment below - no registration required.

Written on Friday, 27 August 2010 09:44 by Gary Yaquinto

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