The process of searching for a new home is governed by an array of variables that are consistent for all of us — how much can we afford, how big, what amenities, what school district, what neighborhood, and what is the tax burden.
When searching for new locations to expand a business, companies undertake a very similar process with different but comparable variables. Companies consider how much they can spend on the new operation, how big of a facility they need to conduct business, the availability and talent of the workforce they need, the training capabilities of the community where they will set up shop, the infrastructure (water, sewer, interstate highways, airports, telecommunications, etc.) of the region, and the ultimate cost of doing business in that location.
In both processes, certain areas are immediately eliminated because those areas do not meet a critical criteria as part of their search process. One of the most prominent screening tools companies use when looking for new locations is Right-To-Work.
National surveys of site selection consultants consistently estimate that one-third of all searches by businesses looking for a new location will only consider locations in areas that are Right-To-Work.
Right-to-Work laws are statutes in 29 U.S. states that prohibit union security agreements between private companies and workers’ unions where the union security agreement would require any employee in a unionized workplace to join the union and pay dues.
So what does this all mean? Simply put, states that are Right-To-Work stay in consideration, and those that are not are eliminated, not in all searches, but in one-third. That is a sizable percentage of projects that do not even consider Pennsylvania for locating their operation. Nor do they consider Ohio and New York.
What if Erie County by itself were to become Right-To-Work? Right-To-Work legislation at the countywide level has been pursued — successfully so far — in Hardin County in Kentucky. Legislation of this nature in Erie County would only apply to the private sector unions — public sector unions would not be affected but they should care, because a growing economy leads to increase in public finances. Erie County would be the only area in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York where a company seeking a Right-To-Work location could consider for expansion. Erie County would immediately be on the map on the national level as a region taking a bold step to attract investment in an effort to regain nearly 2000 lost manufacturing jobs over the last three years.
Arguments against Right-To-Work are that it leads to attracting lower wage jobs and driving down wages in the marketplace. A business’s skilled workforce is its greatest asset — and keeping your talented team together is seen more and more as the pathway to long-term competitiveness. Attracting more manufacturers to the Erie County marketplace would increase the demand for our skilled workers. Increased demand for workers will lead to increased wages. Presently, we have too many skilled workers chasing too few jobs. The only solution to grow wages in Erie County is to grow jobs.
Any decision to make Erie County Right-To-Work would have to go to the community for vote. So it is a community decision, not a political one. Taking the safe, consistent path over the last fifty years has not generated the growth of our economy that we all desire. Staying on that path will likely deliver the same outcomes.
Right-To-Work in Erie County is one idea that merits consideration to grow the base of jobs in Erie County and send a message to the nation that we have stopped business-as-usual and we are ready to compete for jobs with the balance of the country.
Jacob A. Rouch is Vice President of Economic Development at the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 814-454- 7191, ext. 135.