Editor’s corner: Population drain adds to labor stress

Jim Decker was clear and to the point during what was an evening to celebrate at the Conewango Club. As president and chief executive officer of the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, Decker told the crowd of more than 200 individuals gathered Nov. 18 on the second-floor dining room that declining population numbers must be addressed.

Decker noted the 2020 U.S. Census numbers that were released in August were not promising. Those figures showed 38,587 residents living in the rural county to our south. That is a loss of 7.7% when compared to 2010.

Does that sound familiar? It should to those who are elected to oversee Chautauqua County where losses totaled 5.3% to 127,657.

Being in Warren, at least, there was an urgency and acknowledgement regarding one of the most important issues affecting so many rural Northeast communities. On the New York state side, however, there’s just excuses and a woe is us attitude as leadership sidesteps a significant concern for our future.

Why is it so pressing? All one had to do was listen to those who spoke during the “Celebration of Excellence Gala” during that evening in Pennsylvania. Besides highlighting business achievements and milestones there were more than a few notes of concern that permeated the business community.

There is a major crisis regarding the lack of a workforce that is impacting some of our strongest companies. In Chautauqua County, Wells Foods Corp. has been advertising for workers nearly nonstop over the last 18 months. In the meantime, an $87 million expansion plan has taken place at the Dunkirk location and a new state of the art cold-storage facility is being built just outside the city.

It is not much different in Pennsylvania. There are help wanted signs dotting landscapes and mall locations.

One of the more stable industries, Whirley DrinkWorks! had 19 open positions as of Wednesday. Bob Sokolski, who helped build and grow the progressive company, did not shy away from discussing the lack of applicants. He also pleaded with Joe Scarnati, former President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate and current U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson to do something to possibly bring refugees from Afghanistan to the region.

Even though this great country was built on the premise of many Europeans arriving to a new world in North America, there is a great deal of worry that is associated with this idea. A recent piece “Data debunks insidious myths about immigration” published on the Bloomberg Law website offers a different perspective. It discusses the findings of a recent book, “Immigration: Key to the Future — the Benefits of Resettlement to upstate New York.”

Overwhelmingly, those arriving to this region are bringing with them opportunities and investment. “The data is clear: Refugees pay taxes, rebuild housing stock, open stores, and fill open jobs, offsetting the demographic and economic decline in low-income, rural New York communities,” the Bloomberg Law article noted. “In upstate New York … immigrant households had more than $10.3 billion in spending power after taxes, representing 7% of all spending power in upstate New York — well more than their share of the population for the region.”

Besides that, immigrants are coming here to work. “The truth that New York faces is that a combination of an aging workforce, baby boomer retirements, declining birth rates and outward migration of long-term residents imperils the future of smaller communities nationwide,” the Bloomberg Law article notes. “This void continues to be filled by immigrants who as a group serve as an important engine to our future stability and economic welfare.”

It is one potential solution that both counties, with so much in common when it comes to demographics and its political leanings, need to embrace.

Warren is at least paying attention to the dwindling numbers. It is long past the time for Chautauqua County to do the same.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and OBSERVER in Dunkirk, N.Y. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 723-8200, ext. 253.


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