A new program through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) aims to turn Fort Drum into a workforce pipeline for the region.

The council recently won $10 million from the state to create Next Move NY, a workforce development initiative that will focus on recruiting soldiers and their families as they transition to civilian life.

David Zembiec is with Advocate Drum, the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. He says the concept of using Fort Drum to fuel workforce development isn’t a new one, and there have been individual efforts to raise awareness of soldiers’ transferrable skills and the job opportunities available off-base.

“But this (Next Move NY) actually gets at a level of putting a program in place to really build this up and make it sustainable in the long-term,” he said.

An impending workforce gap

The REDC estimates that the North Country — which the state defines as Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties — will have a workforce gap of 48,000 people over the next decade.

REDC co-chair Jim McKenna says there are needs and demands across all industries, including the public sector, nonprofits, corporations, education, hospitality and health care.

The council sees Next Move NY as a solution to that problem. About 4,600 soldiers and military spouses based at Fort Drum leave the military each year. If all of those people decided to stay in the North Country, the region would have about 46,000 new workers over the next 10 years, effectively closing the workforce gap.

McKenna says the council knows that’s not realistic, but still hopes Next Move New York will capture a good chunk of those potential new residents.

“We hope within the next first five years that we could be approaching the 50% level,” he said.

That’s still a high number, but Zembiec says it might be possible. He says about a third of Fort Drum’s transitioning soldiers want to stay in the area, and will if they can find jobs. Another third want to go back to where they’re originally from. That last third are somewhere in the middle.

“They’re not committed to staying here, but they’re going to go where the job is,” he said. “So if they find a job here, great, if it’s somewhere else, they’ll go there. So basically, two-thirds of those soldiers leaving each month are a potential talent/individual to keep in the area.”

Kate Morris is the REDC’s other co-chair. She emphasized that Next Move NY will only involve people who have already decided to leave the military.

“Our effort is about the people who have already made that discernment, that they are going to be leaving the military, and then talking with them about the benefits of staying in the North Country or in New York more generally.”

Read or listen to the full story on North Country Public Radio.