Data only tells part of the story.
To get behind the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce survey numbers, the Chronicle asked four people to expand on the questions: Mike Engiles, owner of Crystal River Watersports; Tabitha Wells, managing member/owner of Wells Business Solutions; Jeff Kinnard, county commissioner; and Bruce Register, county economic development director.
Here is what they said.
Q: Sixty-two percent of local business owners believe the economy will improve slightly to significantly in the coming year yet they are mostly reluctant to hire additional staff. What has to change for the improving economy to translate to more jobs?
ENGILES: “While I believe it will improve, I need to see the actual improvement. Tourism is fairly low-margin, so additional staff can’t be hired until the demand truly warrants it.”
WELLS: “It isn’t 'wrong' to be reluctant. We have no guarantees from natural disaster, acts of terror, or even election results. We must prepare fiscally to act when we are ready and to withstand the future valley of the economic environment.
“Growth in business is a process that requires proper planning and careful execution. As a business owner we are responsible for ensuring continuity of business to the best of our ability. We cannot all hire for Christmas gift wrapping.
KINNARD: “It is my belief that so many local businesses took such a hard fall in 2006-07 that they’re very cautious about adding staff and facilities until they’re confident the economic rebound is real, and would yield a return on their investment of hiring.”
REGISTER: “Individual business decisions usually are based on that entity’s assessment of a combination of their personal risk tolerance and capacity to predict customer demand for goods and services.
“Within this survey, over 50 percent of local business respondents reported economic uncertainty or lack of sales as preventing new hires. Based on this evidence it appears a longer duration of improving economic conditions and or higher demand for goods and services may translate into more jobs.
Q: A solid third of the business owners surveyed generally gave local, state and federal government favorable ratings. What specifically would you like to see from government at any level to help improve the local economic environment?
ENGILES: “Simplification of ordinances combined with a cooperative/assistance approach from staff.
WELLS: “Support. Respect. Communication.”
KINNARD: “The board of county commissioners recently adopted a fairly comprehensive plan, developed by our director of economic development, which I believe lays the foundation for a much more stable, organic, growth in our county. More specifically -- offering incentives for new businesses, and expansion of existing.
“I also believe that the creation of the position of director of economic development will facilitate great understanding and communication between private businesses and their local government.
REGISTER: ”Businesses prefer consistent, predictable government working in harmony to meet the community’s needs. The survey results may indicate progress on that topic in Citrus County.
“As we continue to work together at a local level, the most predictable method for improving the local economy will be support of the multi-faceted approach defined by the Citrus County’s Economic Development Business Plan.
Q: While respondents were split on their view of local government regulations they ranked government over-regulation as their No. 2 barrier to success. What are the top local business regulations you feel need to be addressed? And how should they be addressed?
ENGILES: ”Simplification of signage regulations and cosmetic/appearance requirements. These hinder existing and new businesses to maintain the aesthetic appeal of the area. Yet the preponderance of vacant spaces remain untouched and a solution to encourage re-purposing of the space has not been found.
“The vacancies bring down the street appeal of the surrounding businesses that are trying to operate.
“Further, if ordinances are important enough to be in the books, then they are important enough to evenly and fairly be enforced. Lack of staff simply means that it is not important enough.”
WELLS: “As a business owner and an accountant that deals with the state and federal government on a daily basis and complies successfully, half the battle is knowing the expectations and officials providing consistent follow-through.
“However, I find my challenges are more at the local level. My business is in the city limits, our daily struggles revolve around parking, signage, and communications with local officials.
KINNARD: “There is a very delicate balance to strike between economic development and protecting the quality of life that has drawn many of us here. Protecting, and in some cases restoring, our environment is paramount.
“Residents also want places for dining, recreation, and much needed employment opportunities, so we must have a 'user-friendly' climate for businesses and residents alike. Again, I believe much of that comes back to good communication between all stakeholders.”
REGISTER: Maintaining a balance between concerns for protecting quality of life, environmental stewardship, and life safety -- while safeguarding the rights of individuals in various economic endeavors -- is demanding, largely because many of these issues are complex and technical. Despite these difficulties, government must be vigilantly attentive to solving the concerns of the regulated as well as the needs of citizens in meeting these objectives.
Q: Business owners have said they have the jobs but are unable to find qualified workers to fill the positions. What can local economic, education and government officials do to help overcome the workforce quality issue?
ENGILES: “The two biggest impediments are lack of motivation/work ethic along with the inability to pass drug screening.
“People that show up late, or decide it is a nice day to go fishing, will not hold positions long-term. I have had prospective employees oversleep and miss their first day of training. The inability to pass drug-screening prevents them from getting through the door.
“It appears that expectations and personal responsibility are being lowered by families and the educational system. I’m not sure how to reverse that trend.”
WELLS: “As a business owner, I can say it is not just about finding a qualified worker to fill the position. It is important that business owners invest time and money into employees and that means creating an extensive training process or requiring a certain level of education, maintaining expectations with follow-through and paying competitive wages.
“We must not depend on local economic, education and government officials alone. We need to be proactive. We need employees that have the grit to succeed.”
KINNARD: “It is my personal belief that too many potential employees are focused on 'wage development,' rather than 'career development.'
“In many, if not most cases, a new employee is a liability to their employer. It takes time and money to train them to the point at which they become an asset. Once an asset to their employer, the increased wage can, and should, follow.
“If an employee is just focused on starting wage, we’ll struggle to develop a skilled, career-minded workforce. So called 'soft skills,' and career orientation, are ideals that can be introduced, taught, and reinforced, at home, school, and through interaction with local resources such as CareerSource and others.”
REGISTER: “First, by following the county’s recently adopted Economic Development Business Plan and its directive to improve engagement with our workforce and educational institutions to catalogue and disseminate the existing programs and funds available for enhancing the quality of our workforce.
“Second, using our partnerships for creative marketing and communication initiatives to reach our youth, parents and adults with needs for career path preparation, repair or retooling.
“Finally, encourage companies and our employers to continue, or begin working closely with our workforce service provider (CareerSource) and local education and training providers for near term solutions and adapt long term strategies toward corrective action.