Tallahassee Chamber Conference tackles early education and labor shortages


AMELIA ISLAND — Flashes of men, women and families, all representing different backgrounds and experiences, appeared in a high-production video that helped set the tone for the day at the House of Tallahassee business.

On Saturday, the three-minute video showcased the arc of struggle, frustration and tenacity that residents and businesses have experienced while navigating the past two years of cascading chaos from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the video never mentioned the virus which has upended all aspects of business as usual, it was unnecessary.

The introduction has been designed to introduce the audience to what Chamber members can do individually and collectively to advance community and local business interests.

Most of the day focused on the economy, workforce challenges and the need to invest more money and resources in early learning.

Amelia Island Deadline:

Ron Hetrick speaks at the Tallahassee Chamber Conference on Saturday August 20, 2022 at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island.  Hetrick is Senior Labor Economist/Vice President of Staffing at Emsi Burning Glass.

“If we’re serious about looking at expanding our workforce, we need to invest early,” said Brooke Brunner, director of early childhood programs at Leon County Schools. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can in the birth-to-3 (years) space to make sure we’re augmenting and impacting the brain development of our babies at birth.”

In addition, experts reiterated the need for jobs and building a workforce prepared for the jobs of the future.

With no fewer than 12,000 jobs open, Tallahassee reflects national trends where increasing numbers of people are not entering the workforce by choice or circumstance.

Lindsey Piegza, the conference’s keynote speaker and chief economist at Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc., said the U.S. economy was slowing but did not say the country was officially in recession.

Piegza said labor market improvements have been uneven, adding that some of the hardest-hit sectors are still struggling to reconnect with customers, employees and supply chains. This means businesses are also struggling to recover lost jobs.

The annual Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce retreat begins at Amelia Island.

In addition to a labor shortage, inflation continues to be a challenge. Gasoline prices in twelve consumer categories, including heating equipment, asphalt, pork and corn, are all up.

Here is an overview of cost increases over the past 12 months:

  • Asphalt – up 73.8%
  • Gasoline prices – up 44%
  • Eggs – up 38%
  • Prepared paint – up 25.8%
  • Mixed fertilizer – up 18.2%
  • Corn – up 9.3%
  • Used cars and trucks – up 6.6%

“We just went through a lot of data that shows the US economy is slowing down, but it’s about being the prettiest girl in the ugly girl contest,” Piegza said.

She said several other countries around the world were seeing more drastic changes in the economy, adding that the United States was in a better position despite the current outlook.

CareerSource Capital Region CEO Jim McShane said Tallahassee is seeing a significant number of people withdrawing from the workforce, adding that the problem is compounded by a lack of child care.

Attendees listen to moderator Sue Dick and panelists Michael Boblitz, Kimberly Crowell and Craig Otto speak during the Tallahassee Chamber conference on Saturday, August 20, 2022 at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island.

“We’re definitely running out of child care providers,” McShane said. “We have the Early Learning Coalition (from Big Bend). They have a lot of money and they can do a lot of good things. But the problem is that we don’t have enough suppliers. So we have a lot of women who stay out of the labor market because they have to take care of their children.

The full reopening of all schools is helping, McShane said, allowing some residents to find part-time jobs during school hours.

“But, if you want full-time people, you’ll have to provide some sort of childcare availability,” McShane said. “I spoke to one of our legislators last year to see if there was a way to get people to start child care businesses. That’s what we need, more of capacity on the childcare side.

Contact TaMaryn Waters at [email protected] or follow @TaMarynWaters on Twitter.

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