Workforce participation, a problem serious enough that the Kentucky Chamber Foundation calls it a crisis, is getting a serious investment from Warren County and the city of Bowling Green.

The two local governments are pooling resources to hire Bowling Green-based marketing and advertising agency CrowdSouth to help with a campaign to get people back to work.

Warren Fiscal Court has already approved an agreement that will pay CrowdSouth $243,000 annually (with the cost being split evenly with the city) to develop and execute a campaign intended to motivate local people to take jobs here and entice others from outside the region to move here to work. The Bowling Green City Commission is expected to approve the agreement at a meeting next week.

“Our objective on the project with the city and CrowdSouth is to meet the demands of our growing economy better and faster than any other area in the nation,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “We all have workforce participation shortfalls. We must do a better job than other regions in order to attract the best talent.”

It’s hard to argue that workforce participation isn’t a pressing issue.

Jon Sowards, president and chief executive of the Bowling Green-based South Central Workforce Development Board, has called the decline in the percentage of people involved in the workforce “the topic of our time.”

The numbers seem to bear that out. Whether due to an aging population, scarcity of child care, lack of transportation or other issues, a lower percentage of working-age people are punching time clocks these days.

Defined as the percentage of working-age adults either working or looking for work, the national labor force participation rate has fallen from 67.3% in 2000 to 61.6% today.

The trend is more pronounced in Kentucky, where the participation rate has consistently trailed the national average and is now among the lowest in the nation at 56.3%.

Such statistics can be a drag on local economies, particularly in an area like Warren County that is continuing to attract manufacturers and others with workforce needs.

“It can be a huge hindrance to growth,” Sowards said. “When it comes to economic development and attracting companies, usually those communities with the best tax incentives have been the winners.

“The new incentive now is which community can provide a stable workforce. It’s going to be hard to do.”

Sowards and the workforce board tried to tackle the issue last fall, changing their annual workforce summit to a series of four “town hall” events specifically geared to address workforce participation.

Even as he was formulating ideas that grew out of those meetings, Sowards was approached by Buchanon and other local officials about bringing business and government leaders together to tackle the problem.

The Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce jumped on board, convening meetings of local government officials, educators, business leaders and workforce development professionals.

Now Buchanon, who is retiring at the end of the year after nearly 30 years as judge-executive, is making workforce participation a top priority in his final months in office.

“Judge Buchanon reached out and wanted to see how local government could help address this issue,” Sowards said. “He has been very public that this is a big concern of his.”

Buchanon and fiscal court turned to a company they had already been working with to provide the expertise that the judge-executive believes is needed.

“Our mission is to better communicate our strengths and assets, along with the availability of jobs,” Buchanon said.

That’s where CrowdSouth comes in. The company has done communications work in the areas of COVID-19 and natural disaster recovery for the county.

Now, CrowdSouth co-founder Jason Heflin said the company will tackle what he calls “a longer-term, more systemic issue.”

According to the contract approved by fiscal court, CrowdSouth will address the workforce participation issue primarily by developing a website that “drives workers to our employers and promotes this region as THE place to live, work and play.”

The website will be complemented by an advertising campaign that will include social media and search engine ads along with more traditional ads locally and in other targeted areas.

“We need to make ourselves stand out,” Heflin said. “It (workforce participation) is a problem all across the country. We’re just trying to stand out from the crowd.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.