While Ithaca and Tompkins County are lucky to have a strong economy, it’s a unique area that still has struggles attracting and retaining a talented workforce. To combat this, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and partners launched a new initiative: Live in Ithaca.
Announced on Monday, March 18, the initiative has been an idea for about three years now. The idea behind Live in Ithaca culminates into a brand new website (liveinithaca.org) that connects possible new residents with all the information they need while checking out the area. While there are hundreds of factors that go into choosing a new place to live, Live in Ithaca has classified all the local information into three main categories: careers, community, and quality of life.
With the help of over 200 area employers, the website and initiative aims to connect people looking for jobs with the available openings here in Ithaca and Tompkins County. While the initiative may sound Ithaca-centric because of the name, its focus is much broader. Communities across the county will be represented in the initiative. The choice to go with Ithaca was a marketing one, said President and CEO of the Chamber Jennifer Tavares.
“The brand is ‘Live in Ithaca’ because if you go further from this community, and if you go a few states away, if you go across the country, and you say to someone ‘Hey, Tompkins County, New York is great,’ the chances are that they don’t identify in any way with Tompkins County as a place,” Tavares said. The whole initiative will include the website, a bi-annual relocation and community guide magazine, and a proactive marketing campaign. What it aims to do, Tavares told those gathered Monday, is to help new hires transition to the area by connecting them with local resources and community.
“It’s relatively common knowledge that employers large and small are struggling to identify and retain suitable workforce all around the country,” Tavares said. “This problem is not unique to our community. However, our unique challenges here have led us to create unique solutions.”
Some of the largest employers in the area, including Cornell University, Cayuga Health Systems, and Racker Center, consistently have dozens of job openings at any given time. As Ithaca and the surrounding areas have developed and invested in a local startup community, those businesses struggle to find and retain the quality talent they need to continue to grow as young companies. The non-profit community in Tompkins County is a large one, and right now, Tavares said, there are approximately 10 non-profit Executive Director positions that need to be filled. That’s to say nothing of the rest of the workforce that make up the non-profit sector.
Tompkins County has around 15,000 members of the workforce that don’t live in the county. Future demographics, Tavares said, point to a growing population but not a growing workforce. Finding and retaining a quality workforce is vital to sustaining the healthy economy that Ithaca has built. “We’ve experienced this here at Tompkins Trust Company,” said Greg Hartz, President and CEO. “We have a growing company, we’re often looking for professionals and the local pool is not sufficient enough that we find ourselves casting the net further and further all the time.”
The initiative was created in collaboration with numerous partners, including Tompkins Financial, Ithaca College, Cayuga Medical Center, and Cornell University. Many of these partners have faced the issues of finding and retaining talent themselves and invested in the initiative with the hope of utilizing it to its full extent.
But it’s not just the private sector that wants to see more done to keep talented employees in the area. The county employs over 700 people and is often looking to fill openings.
“We’re constantly looking for talent,” said Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, Martha Robertson. “And never excited with just the first person who comes in, we want to have some choices. We want to have people who are excited to be here, but frankly all of us in Tompkins County also want to know what’s out there. You may like your job, but you might want to wander around this website and see what else is out there.”
Among the community and quality of life areas of the website, searchers can find information about schools, housing, transportation, and entertainment. The site often links out to other websites that already specialize in this information, but it brings it all together in one place.
“It’s about more than ‘I have this job opening, I need the right person,’” Tavares said of using Live in Ithaca to find and retain a qualified workforce in the unique economy that is Ithaca and Tompkins County. “There are higher level needs that are unique here, including the dual-partner challenge, [it] is even harder in our community than in a lot of other communities, because many recruits come with highly qualified partners whose careers are important to them.”
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