Workforce development must be a budget priority

Small businesses are having a difficult time finding employees to fill open positions

As small, independently owned lumberyards in New Hampshire, we were encouraged by Governor Sununu’s 2017 state budget address, where he laid out his goals for New Hampshire. He specifically mentioned the need for job growth, job retention, workforce development, and additional economic opportunities.

Independent lumberyards, which are often family-owned and generational, operate throughout New Hampshire. They are true “Main Street” businesses and supporters of their communities, who donate to local charities, sports teams, and even school playgrounds. Our community businesses offer good jobs, great benefits, and career pathways for residents with various skill sets and talents. We don’t offer these good-paying jobs and benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off and retirement savings programs, to meet state mandates, but to retain and attract quality employees.

But small businesses, such as ours, are having an incredibly difficult time finding employees to fill open positions. As the working population in the building materials industry continues to age, this challenge will only become more difficult in the coming years.

In order to address this labor shortage, the state and its education system should invest in recruiting, developing and training the youth to fill skilled labor positions. The jobs and career paths in the lumber and building materials industry are wide-reaching, and include positions, such as forklift operators, CDL drivers, kitchen designers, human resource managers, accountants, information technology, estimators, installed sales, marketing specialists and buyers.

Identifying and developing a workforce to meet the demand for these positions is critical to ensuring that small businesses continue to operate in local communities.

The importance of working with and supporting small businesses in New Hampshire can’t get lost in budget negotiations. New Hampshire’s economy is fueled by small businesses like ours.

New Hampshire has a golden opportunity to attract new people to help spur the economy. Other Northeast states, such as Connecticut and New York, are plagued by high taxes, budget deficits and population declines. With New Hampshire’s tax-friendly environment, investing in workforce development can attract workers from other states. This is New Hampshire’s opportunity to ensure a bright future. As the Senate deliberates its own proposal for a state budget for the next two fiscal years, they should not forget the words uttered by Governor Sununu in February. Workforce development needs to be a priority for years to come. Our businesses simply can’t survive without it. 

Ken Hamshaw is owner of Hamshaw Lumber, Keene. John Voter, general manager of Benson Lumber & Hardware, Derry, is also president of the NH Retail Lumber Association.

Categories: Opinion