Douglas County's unemployment rate is only 2.3%, but local business owners face another problem: Worker shortage.

That's what Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission told the Douglas County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Fernholz said her agency partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to perform an employee shortage survey with local businesses, and most of the companies replied they had one to seven openings.

However, 20% of them said they had more than 21 job openings.

"Over 21 job openings is pretty significant for a company to continue putting out the output that they have done," Fernholz said.

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While the surveys were filled out anonymously, Fernholz said she thinks many of the businesses with a higher number of job openings were manufacturers.

"As I've talked to manufacturing companies in Douglas County, many of them are having to turn down jobs because they don't have the workforce to complete the jobs to the specifications that they need to," she said.

Fernholz appeared before the board to make an appropriations request for 2022 in the amount of $45,000, the third year in a row at this figure. The request was granted by the board.

"The allocation of $45,000 that we're requesting will go largely to the cost of marketing Douglas County, specifically for regional workforce or our local job openings. … Our board wants to specifically market to the workforce that potentially could be moving to our area, or are moving to our area," Fernholz said.

She added that a digital, radio and print campaign is being devised to do just that.

The funds also will go toward development, Fernholz said, citing a new online platform called Develop with Douglas, which she said is geared toward "first- and second-stage companies" looking to grow in Douglas County.

Runestone Museum

Tuesday's meeting also marked the first time the Runestone Museum Foundation requested appropriations from the county, which it did in the amount of $25,000.

"Our goal is to preserve our current properties and artifacts by requesting $19,350 for the 2022 year from the county to cover the annual costs of our insurance premiums, as well as an additional $5,650 for deferred maintenance of these historic buildings," said Amanda Seim, executive director of the Runestone Museum Foundation.

Seim said the museum's total budget for 2022 is approximately $200,000, although it has not yet been approved by the board of directors.

Last year, the museum had to close for an extended period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When we did have to close our doors we lost about 80% of our operational funding, because we rely so much on museum admissions, private donations and museum gift shop income," Seim said. "Since the pandemic, we have learned that we need to diversify our areas of funding, and one of those we looked to (was) asking for appropriations from the county to invest in some of that preservation heritage."

The issue was tabled until the next commission meeting so more information could be gathered.