Workforce study underway in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield will obtain a clearer picture of its workforce thanks to a laborshed study already underway.

Fairfield Economic Development Association is partnering with Iowa Workforce Development and Iowa Economic Development Authority on an employment study for the Fairfield area. The purpose of this laborshed study is to measure the availability and characteristics of Fairfield area workers. Laborshed studies are useful tools for economic development teams and existing or prospective employers to understand the local labor market, make informed expansion and site selection decisions, and maintain a high-quality workforce.

The study began on Sept. 24 when letters were sent to employers in Fairfield asking them to provide the residential ZIP codes of their employees. This information tells the study’s administrators where workers are commuting from.

The next part will start in late October when a confidential survey of residents will be conducted. The survey taker will receive a letter directing them how to take the survey online. Survey questions will cover topics such as employment status, current and desired wages, current and desired benefits, education level and type of occupation among other things.

The survey is anonymous. Survey respondents will not be asked for any identifying information such as name, Social Security number, or date of birth.

After a month of employer surveys and a month of household surveys, the third and final month of the study will be spent preparing the data and writing a report, which will be published by the end of the year and shared with the area’s employers.

Joshua Laraby, executive director for Fairfield Economic Development Association, said a laborshed study of Fairfield has not been conducted since 2013. Part of the reason local leaders held off on commissioning a study was dissatisfaction with the old design. The study was once limited to people who had landlines, and Laraby said that did not give a true representation of the city’s workforce at a time when many people use only their mobile phones. However, Iowa Workforce Development announced that it was changing its policy to include cellphone surveys as well, and that’s when FEDA signed on.

Laraby said additional workforce is the greatest need for business and industry right now, making this an ideal time to conduct a workforce study.

“This completed study will be helpful to both existing employers who are making their growth plans, and for prospective employers looking to relocate to Fairfield,” he said. “In addition to Fairfield, the same study will be commencing for other communities in our southeast Iowa regional economic development area. This also will allow us to measure the data against others and learn how we can become more competitive for attracting workforce to Jefferson County and the state of Iowa.”

The other counties in the region that are being studied the same time as Jefferson County are Marion, Mahaska, Keokuk, Lucas, Monroe, Wapello, Appanoose and Davis. These counties comprise a group known as Opportunity Squared Regional Economic Development. Katie Lippold from Iowa Workforce Development clarified that it’s not technically a county study. Rather, the study’s administrators focus on the largest city in each county and explore the commuting patterns into and out of that city.

Jefferson County’s neighbor to the northeast, Washington County, is part of a different region — the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor — and that region published its laborshed study earlier this year. Henry County is in the southeast region along with Louisa, Des Moines, Lee and Van Buren counties. That region will have its study conducted either later this year or early next year.

Lippold said the laborshed study program began at the University of Northern Iowa in 1998. The state of Iowa took on the responsibility in 2000. The state charged a fee to conduct workforce studies of cities and counties, which had to pay 20 percent of the cost of the survey, but they could also opt-out of the survey altogether. If they chose to opt-out, the state would not conduct a study of their area.

During this last fiscal year, the state decided to fully fund the laborshed study to ensure that every county receives one every other year.