On a recent “Meet the Press” broadcast, Tom Brokaw said, “We have an analog political culture in a digital world.” I couldn’t help but think how true that statement is.
Our governmental support systems are trying to catch up to a rapidly changing, highly competitive global economy, one that requires a knowledge-based, highly skilled work force. Although economic and work force development are in the same universe and may be sharing an orbit, it is critical that a more streamlined, well-aligned strategy become the pathway.
Around the country, jurisdictions are striving to advance long-term planning and business recruitment as well as improve the retention and expansion of existing business in order to match the work force delivery system’s capacity to recruit and train workers. Similarly, the work force system needs to be designed to meet the needs of regional industries. As we begin building regions that grow existing assets, especially those that are key to the future, work force and economic development must be delivered jointly.
In eastern Maine, this alignment began in the spring of 2009. While still evolving, the vision, goals, strategy and benchmarks that build upon the assets and provide for competitive advantage in growing our economy already have been developed for the region. The realignment of work force and economic development have designed a planning and governance model that provides a pathway to both of its customers — individuals who are seeking jobs and careers as well as the businesses who are seeking skilled workers.
This new structure is driven by the private sector — an element that is key to its foundation and ultimate success. At the outset, the designers recognized it was imperative for the private sector to “own” this model if it is going to work. Government agencies, nonprofit groups and similar programs should follow the private sector’s lead and support the regional strategies and development sectors that provide a real return on investment.
Years ago, Sen. Edmund Muskie was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs, which acted as a clearinghouse of roles and responsibilities of federal, state and local government structures. It focused on mandates, federal spending impacts and decision-making systems at all levels of government. The goal was that the federal government should support projects through programs and funding. The role of states was to establish policies that advanced remediation of needs. The local or regional entities were to be the delivery system of the programs.
Since local and regional systems are closest to the need, the private and public leadership of each region is better equipped to make decisions. In Maine, centralized decision-making systems always are suspect. Instead, partnerships and networks of collaborative efforts are expected and generally end up with better results.
The streamlining of economic and work force development continues throughout the nation. There are various models and most provide for joint planning, integration of resources, establishment of regional goals and information management.
Maine is embarking on a conversation on how to improve the delivery system. Gov. Paul LePage’s “Learn to Earn” initiative that aims to have students, workers and businesses go to a single place to find information on job training and skilled workers is a good starting point. The recognition and emergence of regional knowledge-based trade and industry sectors requires that economic development and work force development systems work in partnership. In regions where this effort is put into practice, success will follow. Eastern Maine already is leading in this effort. While initially it appears that economic development and the work force system are from different planets, in the end, we are all from Earth.
Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.