THE FRONT-PAGE Sunday story by reporter Barbara Carton was sure to raise a few eyebrows around the region: here were employers in Fairfax County saying they were suffering the worst labor shortage in recent memory -- some traveling to North Carolina and Pennsylvania for help -- while right across the Potomac in the District of Columbia the unemployment rate was above 8 percent and much higher in certain neighborhoods. Whatever the reasons for this situation, it seemed ripe for an immediate matching of supply to demand.
We asked Mayor Barry, Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity, various Northern Virginia employers and the Greater Washington Board of Trade yesterday if the city could step up efforts to match D.C. people with Fairfax jobs -- and transport those workers to somewhere near those sites. Everyone was enthusiastic. There was no bureaucratic hedging on either side of the river, and no balking from would-be employers. With a bit of public and private enterprise, some experiments may now be in the offing.
As Sunday's report noted, there have been a number of difficulties involved in matching D.C. workers with jobs in Fairfax. Not all of them can be addressed immediately but two can be: 1)spreading the precise, up-to-date word on specific jobs open, and 2)delivering a labor pool, which is something that public transportation cannot do in many instances.
What if the D.C. government were to open a small office or hall somewhere in Fairfax to coordinate with county officials and employers, and arrange some form of transportation -- vans, maybe -- to deliver labor pools with varied skill levels for specific construction projects, hotel jobs or other work currently going begging? Mayor Barry says he's ready to act. Chairman Herrity says that if the city takes such an initiative, the county will assist private employers to identify jobs and encourage hiring.
Employers who were contacted said they stood ready to hire. Why haven't they driven into the District instead of into small rural areas farther away? They didn't know where to look in the city, weren't sure how to go about it smoothly, and weren't always sure how enthusiastic their reception might be, either from D.C. government officials or from residents. But deliver people who are ready to work or be trained and, many employers say, they will come and get them.
Nobody is pretending that people and jobs will click into place easily at all levels; that's not happening anywhere. But this is a situation that cries out for imaginative responses. The District and Fairfax can show the way.