I thoroughly enjoyed discussing workforce and data strategies at the 2018 IEDC Annual Conference in Atlanta this month. The conference started with a fitting quote from Michigan Lieutenant Gov. Brian Kalley: “Talent is the new currency in economic development.” From there, workforce discussion was prevalent.
A few key things I gleaned:
- It’s vital to communicate the skills in your community, not just occupations and job titles.
- One site selector suggested showcasing the companies (and their functions) that operate in your area to help prospective business see what type of skillsets your community specializes in. Great idea.
- Talent attraction and websites that help communities market themselves to workers are among the most important things that economic developers can focus on. (Another gem of a quote an economic developer in Michigan: “We aren’t in the business attraction business anymore; we’re in the people attraction business.” He prefaced that quote by saying, “I can’t find people.”)
- Speaking of talent attraction: In the panels I was on, I mentioned Emsi’s Talent Attraction Scorecard. We’ll be releasing the third annual version soon, but you can download last year’s version – which includes six phases of a robust talent strategy – at this link.
- I was glad to hear James Fallows, co-author of the new book “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,” give much-deserved credit to community colleges for serving at the center of retraining and upskilling in their communities.
- Jason Vangalis of Ady Advantage encouraged EDOs to focus on readiness, from talent readiness to community readiness to site readiness.
- I like what another site selection consultant said: to focus on quality, from quality of place to the quality of your city’s people/talent.
- Be on the lookout for a grant opportunity from CAEL and IEDC to be one of the five economic development organizations to pilot strategies to strengthen the ties between economic and workforce development.
Meeting Eli Hamner of Back on My Feet
Lastly, I want to share the most touching story I heard in Atlanta. The highlight of the conference for me was listening to Eli Hamner give one of four “ED Talks,” short, TED talk-style presentations on the latest in economic development.
Eli is an alumnus of Back on My Feet, an organization that combats homelessness through the power of running. He told the story of his struggle with drugs and alcohol and his years of homelessness and floating between jobs before resolving to turn his life around so he wouldn’t be seen as a disappointment to his daughter, who had just graduated high school. He’s been sober and clean for over five years, and Back on My Feet Atlanta played a big part in his recovery and discovering a passion for running. He’s now serves as a mentor to those in the Back in My Feet program, and he’s working toward becoming an HVAC technician.
Eli has run four or five marathons, including the Boston Marathon. I had the immense privilege of running with him and others on a 5-mile fun run put on by DCI for IEDC attendees. Eli led the pack for the 7 a.m. run despite having worked an all-night shift at a local hotel.
Thanks to Andy Levine of DCI for helping bring Eli to the conference. And thanks to Eli for having the courage to share his inspiring story.