Laborshed. What it Means and Why Economic Development Teams Have Adopted the Term

Economic development teams understanding a region’s labor force A Laborshed is an area or region from which an employment center draws its commuting workers. Determined using a survey of the local workforce, Laborshed data can be used to help economic development teams retain and expand existing businesses while attracting new employers into the area.

Laborshed surveys typically provide information about: 

  • Underemployment
  • Wages
  • Hours worked
  • Educational Degrees / Fields of Study / Certifications / Vocational Trades
  • Total estimated potential labor force:
  • Employment categories (employed, unemployed, retired, or homemaker)
  • Current and desired occupations
  • Commute distance / time
  • Willingness to change or accept employment
  • Out Commute: The % of residents living in the node community, but working for employers located in other communities
  • Workplace flexibility

The essential purpose of a Laborshed analysis is to estimate the potential availability of workers. The employment center (also referred to as a “node”) typically has the largest draw. Smaller, nearby communities will fall within the umbrella of the node community. 

How is a Laborshed Determined?

Typically, a Laborshed study is conducted via a random telephone survey of individuals, ages 18 to 64, living within the Laborshed area. (The 18 to 64 range is used because it reflects the segment of the population that is most likely to be employed or re‐enter the workforce.) The survey is a random sampling of households, not a complete census of all households.

The geographic boundaries for the survey are determined using information from local employers about their employees’ home ZIP code listings. Geography plays an important part in determining commuting patterns, since obstacles such as rivers and roads can impact commuters and commute time into a Laborshed area.

How Understanding a Laborshed Can Help Economic Development 

Laborshed studies help community economic development teams and existing or prospective employers understand the local labor market, make informed expansion and site selection decisions, and maintain/recruit a high‐quality workforce.

Many audiences can benefit from the data included in a Laborshed report, including: 

  • Planners
  • Economic development specialists
  • Job seekers
  • Employers
  • Transportation authorities
  • Local leaders
  • State and local government agencies
  • Site selectors
  • Community development groups
  • Utility companies
  • Educational institutions
  • Policy makers
  • Grant writers
  • Media

The availability of labor is among the most critical location factors for a business. Communities that have the ability to document and illustrate that area residents are willing to accept new or different employment opportunities, and identify their current and desired wage levels, work experience and level of education have a distinct competitive advantage over those that rely on anecdotal information, unemployment rates or outdated data/information. 

For information about Laborshed data for Currituck County, N.C., and for guidance regarding local business incentives and workforce availability from our Economic Development team, please visit

Hampton Roads Business Resource Guide

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