The lack of affordable and workforce housing is hurting the ability of one of Collier’s largest employers to hire more workers according to Arthrex Senior Vice-President John Schmieding.
During a presentation about the future expansion of his company to the Collier County Commission on Tuesday, Schmieding said that Arthrex already employs over 3,000 in Southwest Florida and is looking to add at least 1,000 more jobs in the next eight years with the building of their new 300,000 square foot facility, but that the company is having an issue hiring new workers.
“There are over 100 jobs in Collier County that remain unfilled, and these are high paying strong manufacturing jobs,” Schmieding said.
He explained that the issue is twofold; there are not enough training programs for advanced manufacturing jobs in the area, and the county lacks housing that employees can afford. Schmieding encouraged the commission to support a request of more funding for the Immokalee Technical College to help close the gap.
“We are literally 15 years behind the curve for preparing our workforce for these type of advanced manufacturing jobs,” said Schmieding.
The Arthrex Vice-President also urged the commission to move on affordable housing, saying that it was essential to advance manufacturing. The company has recently been forced to move part of its operation to South Carolina where they were actually able to fill positions, in large part due to the far cheaper cost of living compared to Collier.
“South Carolina provides housing at half the cost, and they pay more, the community does as a whole,” said Schmieding. “Without being able to house our employees, we can train all we want, we will still not get people recruited to come down here or to stay here.”
The housing problem extends well beyond the entry-level manufacturing jobs, according to Schmieding. The company is having a difficult time retaining high-level senior engineers because the real estate market has become so heated.
Home prices in Southwest Florida have taken a sharp upturn in the last few years as demand has increased and inventory has been tight. This has also spiked the cost of rentals as prospective residents search for a more affordable housing option. All of this is good news for investors and homeowners, but creates a real barrier to those looking to move into the area.
“We simply can’t pretend that our obligation to house individuals is limited to a market focus,” said Schmieding. “As the market drives people in the workforce out of the ability to be housed in the county, companies like Arthrex will be forced to take a piece of the pie somewhere else.”
Commissioner Penny Taylor said that the county had been struggling to address affordable housing as it adapts to an economy that is moving away from being so heavily reliant on tourism, buy that it was an important change to make.
“You can’t separate economic development from workforce housing slash affordable housing, you can’t do it,” said Taylor.
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