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Unemployment shrinking as Millennials rise in workforce

November 20, 2018

A younger generation of employees is rising in Arizona’s economy, and Lake Havasu City is eager to hire them.

Five years ago, unemployment in the Lake Havasu City-Kingman metropolitan district was about 10.3 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. But that number is declining with the growth of Havasu’s economy as Millennials begin to overtake Baby Boomers in America’s labor force.

According to Lake Havasu City Partnership for Economic Development President James Gray, Havasu’s unemployment rate has fallen to about 4.9 percent since the city implemented its Vision 2020 economic and community development plan in 2016. A crucial part of that plan includes the procurement of younger talent as Havasu’s Baby Boomers age out of the city’s work force.

“Our business community understands that we are challenged to find additional workforce, but this is a nationwide problem,” Gray said. “The Baby-Boomer generation is rapidly leaving the work force market place and the truth is that Generation X does not have the numbers to fully replace them. Together our community still has work to do to retain and attract the very people who will sustain growth over the next several years.”

The Lake Havasu City-Kingman statistical district’s workforce peaked in July 2008 with 94,636 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Following the recession, that number began a gradual decline before plummeting in 2009.

By January 2010, the statistical district’s workforce lost more than 10,000 employees. The decline in the Havasu region’s workforce continued until December 2013 – by that time, the statistical district had lost another 8,000 employees.

The Lake Havasu City-Kingman statistical district has been recovering for the past five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the region’s improving economy and the entry of Millennials into the workforce, the statistical district’s workforce had risen to more than 85,300 employees by September of this year.

According to PED statistics, however, only 21,823 Lake Havasu City residents were among that number. In Havasu, more than half of the city’s population is retired or otherwise not in the region’s labor force.

“With unemployment decreasing, record tax collections encouraging growth and multiple building projects underway, we are still experiencing a talent gap, not just in Lake Havasu City but all of North America,” Gray said.

Vision 2020’s efforts toward job creation and drawing new talent to Havasu have included collaboration with ASU Havasu’s Startup School and a pilot co-work space program, started earlier this year through an initial investment by the PED. The co-work program consolidated six local technology-based companies in a single building, encouraging collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurialism to cultivate job creation, according to Gray.

Efforts toward drawing and retaining talent in Havasu have included the passage of a 15-percent bond override measure on behalf of Lake Havasu City educator and improvement to school facilities, programs and technology through the passage of a $49 million bond proposal in 2017.

Havasu’s employment economy increased most prominently in the tourism and hospitality industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding more than 2,500 new jobs in the past five years. According to London Bridge Resort General Manager Cal Sheehy, the improving economy has increased demand for Havasu hotels, prompting a surge in employees and renewal for the industry. This includes recent renovation projects among most of Havasu’s hotels as well as the addition of Holiday Inn Express – Havasu’s first hotel construction project in more than 20 years.

Of the city’s 54,000 residents, almost 18,400 are of age 65 or older – a population more than double the number of all Havasu residents between 20 and 50 years old. But according to Sheehy, the industry’s growth and the improving Arizona economy is drawing more young employees to the region.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of Millennials joining our team, but we’ve also seen a lot of people who have retired who want to work,” Sheehy said. “It’s about even. We’ve always had a pretty diverse team, and it’s always worked out pretty well for us. We’ve been adapting to an up-and-coming workforce as more and more young people join our team.”

Staff at the London Bridge Resort are encouraged to take part in the city’s Certified Tourism Ambassador program, which trains employees of Havasu restaurants, hotels and other lodgings to better cater to a diverse tourism market. The program has trained 500 local employees, bringing further appeal to the city’s hospitality industry, according to Sheehy.

“Leisure and tourism is Havasu’s leading job-creator,” Sheehy said. “And that’s bringing new folks to the area – which was one of the primary goals of Vision 2020.”

As Havasu’s population of Millennials increases, educational institutions like Mohave Community College and ASU Havasu campus are encouraging and training an up-and-coming workforce. According to ASU Havasu economist and current director Raymond Van der Riet, Havasu’s stronger economy since the recession and a rising Millennial workforce are intertwined.

“The rise in the younger demographic in Lake Havasu has everything to do with the stronger economy – construction and service industry jobs are becoming more available,” Van der Riet said. “Younger demographics tend to follow employment, and less diversified economies tend to see more aggressive influx and outflow of younger workers during the boom and bust cycles.”

According to Van der Riet, negative stereotypes about younger workers are often publicized, but the reality of Millennials is less sensational than presented in the media.

“Many Millennials are hard-working and very creative,” Van der Riet said. “They tend to have different expectations for their careers compared to previous generations. They don’t expect to work at the same company for long periods, they are open to life-long education and retraining and they expect rapid change and innovation. They want to be part of a team.”

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