This article was originally published in the Ledger-Enquirer.

By Tony Adams

If employers in the Columbus area are going to have the necessary ingredients to expand their businesses — and the city being able to attract new companies in the future — it has to start with a top-notch and plentiful workforce.

That’s the message that Columbus 2025 put out Wednesday, with the group of local business and community leaders saying it is embarking on a mission to upgrade the talent level of skilled labor in the city and the surrounding area, as well as the sheer numbers needed to land major employers.

“The message from business and industry in the greater Columbus region has been heard loud and clear. Continued economic growth and expansion is highly dependent on a talented, educated workforce pipeline,” Jacki Lowe, a retired Georgia Power executive, said in a statement from Columbus 2025. She is chair of one of the group’s focus areas called, “Talented, Educated People.”

Columbus 2025 said it is bringing together 50-plus business, education and workforce organizations to launch what it’s calling a “Talent Coalition” to come up with a strategy for “creating a road map for talent development, retention, attraction and growth.”

The current move follows an assessment a year ago by Austin, Texas-based Avalanche Consulting, which took a look at what the local workforce is like now and what would be required to boost job growth opportunities in Columbus and the surrounding region.

The company projected the area is poised for economic growth if it can put the workforce pieces in place. Columbus 2025 also acknowledges there is a “nationwide battle” among cities and regions for skilled workers and that something needs to be done to remain competitive locally. Through October, Avalanche will be meeting with an employer advisory group to develop a strategy.

“The time is now for Greater Columbus to talk strategically about its current and future talent pipeline,” Avalanche executive Chris Engle said in a statement.

The effort comes with the Columbus metro area now having a labor force of just over 127,000, with its total job count at 122,500, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. The current unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, the figure for June, which is higher than 4.4 percent in May. The July number will be released later this month.