President John F. Kennedy frequently said that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” That belief is foundational to what economic development is or at least should be.
When you really boil it down, economic development is about helping people, giving them opportunities to better their lives, which in turn benefits their communities.
When people do better financially, you see it on ground where they live, which creates a snowball effect. Capital investment, direct and indirect jobs are formed. Points on the board creates more points.
Central to this is talent – what some people call “human resources.” I actually prefer that term because people are a potential resource, particularly if they can be brought up to speed and have the skill sets that employers want.
While I frequently will come across communities that fall short in offering vocational training, I am not so jaundiced as to not be pleasantly surprised on occasion. I want to tell you about two such instances that I find inspirational and represents risk taking and creativity,
Remember, planning, which is inherently a safe process, is one thing. Doing, which always entails risk, is quite another.
I’m not suggesting there should not be planning, but too much of a good thing can be not so good. Going overboard on planning, which I have seen, can actually inhibit taking action. Communities that take action and are willing to bet on themselves are the ones that progress.
Developing Our Future
Monday night, I had dinner in Dallas with Walt Sprouse, president at Randolph County Economic Development Corporation, based in Asheboro, N.C.
Walt told me how Randolph County has an apprenticeship program administered by the local community college. From his smart phone, he showed me videos of young people signing agreements with local manufacturers during a ceremony. It very much reminded me of the NFL signing draft that I’ve seen on television.
I have to believe that this is something that could be emulated all across America. Students in Randolph County gain valuable skills and experience through on-the-job training, and earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Manufacturing Technology from Randolph Community College at no cost to the student.
Giving these young people the opportunity to maximize their earning potential through apprenticeships and thereby help local employers secure talent, well, if that is not economic development, I don’t what is.
Apprenticeship Randolph begins with a six-week, pre-apprenticeship summer program that consists of two RCC classes. It is then spaced out over a four-year span. Students start off making $9 per hour and eventually make $13.50 per hour. Apprentices have opportunities to begin their careers in Advanced Manufacturing, after completing the program.
“As I look at manufacturing in general across the country, we’ve got to develop our future. This is developing our future, working with the students, showing them what manufacturing is about, and helping us to prepare what we are going to face,” said Rick Powell, president of Pemmco Manufacturing Inc.
Something to Share with Anyone in Need
It’s one thing for a community college to offer vocational training in the industrial trades. I look for that in every community that I visit in a consulting capacity. But it came as a bit of a surprise when I learned of a church in Huntsville, Ala., offering a free manufacturing certification class.
You have heard this saying before -- “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Contrary to popular belief, that quote is not from the Bible, but is believed to have originated with the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism. But there are Biblical passages that reinforce this same concept, which is central to economic development.
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” -- Ephesians 4:28
And so it is that Fellowship of Faith Church of Huntsville will bring in an instructor from nearby Drake State Community and Technical College to teach a 60-hour certification course.
"There are thousands of jobs right now available in north Alabama, but they can't be fulfilled because they don't have the qualified workforce," class organizer Vernon McCants told WAAY-TV. Drake State offers degrees in Applied Services Technologies that prepare students for careers in automotive systems, welding and machine tooling.
North Alabama is truly hot right now for manufacturing and the labor market is getting as tight as Dick’s hatband. (Look that one up.) The Big Kahuna (I’m sorry, I’m getting on a roll now.) was winning the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda assembly plant, which is now under construction.
Blue Origin, privately funded aerospace manufacturer founded and owned by Jeff Bezos, chose Huntsville for a $200 million rocket engine plant because of its high-tech aerospace manufacturing heritage. That project is expected to create 342 jobs.
New BBA Product
My company, Barber Business Advisors, is about impacting lives, which again is what economic development should be all about. We deliver a range of services to help communities focus on continuous improvement that should result in capital investment and job creation.
Recently, in conjunction with our strategic partner ExecutivePulse, we’ve added a new product offering. Determining and leveraging the assets of a community, while identifying the challenges that need to be addressed, is the purpose our BBA SWOT/Asset Mapping. It's a fast and affordable way for an economic development organization to initiate needed change.
It takes us only three days to come to a community and make an unvarnished assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. We follow up our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) with asset mapping, designed to create a digital resource guide that communities can use for investment/attraction, BRE, workforce and entrepreneurial development.
It can include everything from pure play economic development resources to tourism assets and private sector entities that assist companies and entrepreneurs. This is all about providing true value to the private sector, where most job growth happens.
A Plug for ECONOMIX
I’m in Nashville for most of the week, attending Consultant Connect’s ECONOMIX. The purpose of the event is revealed by the name. Simply put, this is an opportunity for economic developers from around the country to mix and connect with site selection consultants.
As BBA does site selection consulting for corporate clients in addition to economic development consulting, I’m here along with my colleague Tim Feemster to mix and connect.
The good part is that I will leave this event having learned a lot from the economic developers about their respective communities and how they approach economic development. These are people intent on helping others, making what they do a most honorable profession. How could I not like spending time with them?
I’ll see you down the road.