Editorial: Recruit workers, not companies, to boost economy

Recent news — reported by BizWest — that Dropbox Inc. has posted 117 job openings in Boulder provides a learning opportunity for local and state economic-development officials.

The job openings — also posted for Denver — are entirely remote. Dropbox has no local office, and a spokesperson for the company said it has no plans to open one.

Rather, the company has adopted a remote work policy, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even current offices for the company are being converted into coworking “studios” for their employees to collaborate when needed.

As Dropbox seeks to fill hundreds of key positions, the policy frees them up to look elsewhere — anywhere, really — for talented workers. The Boulder job postings on LinkedIn included product managers, solution architects, senior data scientists, product designers and many other disciplines, and reflected similar targeted recruitment in other high-tech hotbeds.

Dropbox job postings on LinkedIn as of Nov. 30 list the more-expansive “United States (Remote),” rather than Boulder specifically.

But the shift to remote work illustrates perhaps a permanent effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least for some companies. State Farm Insurance Co. announced in November 2020 that it would close its Greeley campus and shift most of those jobs to remote work.

For many companies, workers can be anywhere in the world.

And that creates a heightened opportunity for economic-development officials, who traditionally have focused on recruitment or expansion of companies.

But as every sector suffers from a shortage of workers, recruitment of people — skilled people — should become their new focus.

Some regional efforts, including the Northern Colorado Regional Economic Development Initiative, or NoCo REDI, include workforce development as an area of focus. And most such groups in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado are involved with programs to increase workforce training.

But efforts could go further. Some communities around the country offer incentives for workers to relocate there.

Aberdeen, South Dakota, for example, has launched the Aberdeen Workforce Recruitment Program, offering local employers up to $5,000 per open position to assist in creation of robust worker-incentive packages. The funds — with the business providing another $2,500 — can be used for signing bonuses, student-loan repayment for out-of-state recruits, relocation bonuses, etc.

Quincy, Illinois, in September launched “Quincy’s Calling,” a multi-year resident and workforce recruitment campaign. New residents receive a property-tax rebate of up to $5,000 after one year of residency. Renters can receive a rebate of up to $3,500 on rent or lease payments after six months of residency.

Aberdeen and Quincy are just two examples of a national trend, as communities seek to assist businesses by bringing in talented workers.

Recruitment of talented people also would contribute to the “Innovation Economy,” as some of those workers eventually might create their own startups.

Companies throughout Colorado are crying out for people. It’s time for economic-development efforts to catch up.