The housing situation in the Greater Newport region is having a negative impact on our economy as employers struggle to find workers to fill positions. A decline in the working-age population able to live in the region is being offset by an increased workforce commuting into tit, which raises sustainability risks. Our data shows that over the past five years, our working-age population declined by almost 1,100 workers.
This trend is expected to continue and will limit our economic potential. Greater Newport is projected to have a 15.6 percent increase in jobs in the next 10 years, led by education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services. This job growth will be outpaced by nearly 10,000 retirements from the current workforce, due primarily to an existing clustering of workers between ages 55-64. These roles will require significant backfilling to stabilize the regional workforce.
This labor force and employment dynamic are already playing out, as employers are telling us about their inability to find healthcare employees, teachers, bank tellers and early-childhood care providers, as well as the needed seasonal employees to support our hospitality sector. They interview candidates who are interested in the positions, but as those candidates look for housing that will not require hours of commuting, their enthusiasm for working in the region quickly wanes.
Without a region-wide focus on how to bring more housing online, with options to both own and rent, we will see our employers needing to make difficult decisions about growth and even viability. We will also see more and more people being forced to commute into the region further crowding our streets.
Our housing model shows that an increase of between 6,000 and 9,000 units is needed over the next decade to match the projected workforce. The range is based on commuting patterns, expected salaries, and household composition. The 6,000 units estimate is what we think is needed to realize our economic potential and ensure that our basic services and quality of life continue.
This is the second in a series of editorials resulting from our recently published report, “Housing Analysis for the Greater Newport Region.” In future editions, we will share what employers are saying, identify opportunities for change and document the lost opportunities that result from this imbalance. As the State Legislature, under the leadership of Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, advances a budget proposal with a set of initiatives to address statewide issues, we want to make sure our region understands the severity of the issues in our backyard and the importance of advancing policies and initiatives that help address the housing gap, especially for working families.
Erin Donovan-Boyle, Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce Rich Overmoyer, Fourth Economy Consulting