Daily Chronicle

Williams: Encouraging trends in workforce for DeKalb County

“If we were going to have a word for the year coming from the committee, it’s encouragement, because this data certainly does look good.”

That was a quote from Paul Callighan, co-chair of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.’s Business Retention, Expansion and Talent Pipeline Committee, after an update on local labor force data for DeKalb County.

The data was provided by Tom Austin, a labor market analyst with the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

A brief highlight of some of the data follows:

The population growth rate in DeKalb County is higher than the state’s growth rate when indexed at the state level starting in 1980.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, DeKalb County was part of about a dozen Illinois counties experiencing population growth between July 2022 and July 2023. That is certainly encouraging news given recent trends of outmigration and losses during the pandemic.

DeKalb County is being recognized as a place to live, work and play.

The labor force participation rate in DeKalb County is considerably higher than the state and national average.

What does this mean? While employers rely on new workers entering the labor force, they also rely to a larger extent on the existing labor force continuing to participate in the labor force.

The decline in labor participation was evident during the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic, where individuals chose not to participate in the workforce for various reasons. Some chose to go back to school to improve their skills and or were not able to find adequate child care options.

Austin pointed out that “over time, you do want to see labor force participation at a higher level because that’s reflective that the economy is doing well, people are comfortable coming back into the economy and participating in it, and that there are opportunities.”

DeKalb County has the lowest median age for workers in the Elgin Metro region at 34.3.

Kane County’s median age of workers is 41, Illinois is at 39.9, and the U.S. median age is 39.6.

The DeKalb County workforce is the youngest in the region. Having a younger group of workers in the county is a positive reflection of the communities within the county but also is most likely attributable to having Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College located in the county.

We know that when we can show we have a continuous flow of younger talent into the county, we will have better outcomes on business retention and expansion, as well as attraction.

It is therefore paramount that we continue with the implementation and integration of our Opportunity Unbound brand’s goals.

Initial goals for OU were to attract and retain a strong and diverse workforce; expand the quality of life in the county through specific attractions and entertainment venues; change the current perception of our citizens; create a more diverse palette of opportunities for people of varied races, religions and ethnicities; integrate our county with NIU, Kishwaukee College and the other educational institutions; and leverage business retention and attraction efforts.

Each of these goals continues to be addressed through our OU marketing channels. Our Opportunity Unbound Marketing Committee is co-chaired by Cortney Strohacker and Mike Kokott.

Our Business Retention, Expansion and Talent Pipeline Committee is co-chaired by Kelly Gillespie and Paul Callighan and meets the first Tuesday of each month.

You can find Austin’s presentation and other related resources and information at dcedc.org/resources-data.

  • Mark Williams is executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.

This column was updated April 1, 2024, to correct an earlier version which should have used the word “median.”