OLEAN, NY – Every chair was occupied at the round table in the Erick J. Laine Boardroom, one of many recently renovated rooms on the third floor of Olean Business Development, 301 N. Union St.

Rep. Tom Reed, who had come to Olean to receive a Spirit of Enterprise Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his support for pro-growth policies during the second session of the 114th Congress, moderated the discussion.

The local business leaders in attendance voiced concerns about declining enrollment in local institutions of higher learning education and the struggle to find qualified candidates for company jobs. 

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The large and continuing drop in enrollment worries Dr. Cory Duckworth, president of Jamestown Community College, who noted that the college’s Dream It. Do It manufacturing institute program “does a great job with getting kids inspired and motivated with their state-of-the-art facilities and technologies. But when it comes down to the time to really do it, it seems like it stops there.”

JCC, known for its premier academic and athletic facilities at both its Jamestown and Olean campuses, has seen enrollment decline steadily over the past five years. College trustees are unsure that new buildings and facilities actually benefit colleges, since the numbers say it is not helping attract more students.

In response to these concerns, Reed offered, “It’s important to connect your schools with companies who offer guaranteed internships and guaranteed jobs to students upon graduation.”

He added that if big buildings and five-star facilities cannot bring students, perhaps guaranteed jobs can.  

Currently no JCC programs guarantee job placement after graduation, but Duckworth did mention that such programs could be in the making.

Employers in Cattaraugus County who attended the meeting did correlate the declining number of students attending local colleges to a shrinking field of potential skilled employees. 

Mari Howard, president and CEO of both the ReHabilitation Center – NYSARC Cattaraugus and Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, is among executives dealing with “crop scarcity.” She said, “I’m finding it harder and harder to attract talent to this area in this field.”

The entire table seemed to second her opinion. Cattaraugus County is not a hotbed for attracting young college graduates, and area business leaders tend to search for local talent from higher-ed institutions such as St. Bonaventure and JCC.

As the discussion came to a close, Larry Sorokes, president and CEO of the OBDC, and Nick Vaugh, Eastern Region Manager at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented Reed the Spirit of Enterprise Award plaque.

More information on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce scorecard for how members of Congress voted on key business issues in 2016 can be found here.