Collaboration Key to Providing Pathways to Employment

CNBC-Image-Workforce

More than 82% of U.S. manufacturers say they are having trouble finding the skilled labor they need to fill tens of thousands of jobs.  As reported by CNBC today, this is the situation that a St. Paul textile manufacturer found itself in two years ago after demand started to rise for their American-made products.

Since 1904, J.W. Hume has manufactured its products in the U.S. even while most apparel and textile firms were sending their work to overseas labor markets. Despite their commitment to the American workforce, decreased industry demand for skilled sewers over the years resulted in two generations of workers who didn’t have the skills to fill available positions at the company.

Determined to fix the problem, former CEO Jen Guarino reached out to local community colleges and other manufactures to find a solution and equip American students with the skills to fill available positions. Their collaborative effort resulted in a six-month training program run by Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis designed to teach students how to use industrial cutters, steamers and factory sewing machines to fabricate garments, purses, satchels, bedding and other products. Since its launch, the Dunwoody program has had a 90% placement rate and graduates earn on average $13.46 an hour.

Over the past few years, city leaders have taken concerted efforts to launch initiatives that produce the type of results that are being seen in the Twin Cities. New, multi-sector collaborations are being created to dramatically increase the proportion of residents in their communities who obtain a postsecondary degree and credential and go on to successful full-time employment.

Through their power to convene and set the agenda, local officials are able to effectively scale up efforts by individual stakeholders by bringing together leaders from community and technical colleges, public and private universities, school districts, community organizations, workforce boards and chambers of commerce to develop a more coordinated strategy to provide students with the supports and services they need to attain employable skills.

Through initiatives such as Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success, supported by the Lumina Foundation, and Communities Learning in Partnership, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NLC has supported the work of mayors and other local leaders to boost postsecondary graduation rates by better coordinating the services that colleges, schools and cities provide to students.

As postsecondary education and workforce development gain prominence as drivers of economic growth, policy reformers and industry alike increasingly turn to mayors to make the necessary connections between institutions of learning and the marketplace.

To learn more about how your city can get started or improve efforts underway to equip students with in demand skills, visit NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success resource page. You can watch the entire CNBC segment on their website.

Workforce Development Programs across America Are Shutting Down

A week ago I wrote a blog about the threat that the shutdown poses to Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs. The post noted that “as the shutdown drags on, serious questions are being raised as to how long some WIA programs will be able to continue to operate.” Unfortunately, these questions are being answered, and not in the way we had hoped.

The impact of the federal government shutdown on workforce development programs that are funded by the federal government but operated by cities, towns, and counties is being felt across the country. Programs in every state have implemented or are considering layoffs. Some have gone so far as to shut down all operations completely.

These programs, which are designed to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find work, are facing the ultimate irony: they are being forced to shutter their doors and lay off their own staffs.

Why is this happening?

The answer is fairly straightforward. The shutdown has prevented new federal dollars from flowing to states and localities to fund these programs, and without those funds to pay salaries and overhead these programs have been forced to shut down temporarily.

Prior to the federal shutdown, the U.S. Department of Labor was unable to obligate new funds, and now many of the nation’s workforce development programs are running out of the funds they had on hand. And states, counties, and cities do not have the resources to pick up the slack.

Here are several examples:

• South Carolina’s Lower Savannah Workforce Investment Area has furloughed nearly all of its workforce development staff and posted following message on its website:

Due to the [federal] government shutdown, the Workforce Development Unit (all but three staff) will begin furlough for an indefinite amount of time. Information on this site may not be updated in a timely manner or updated until the furlough has ended.

• Iowa Workforce Development furloughed 69 employees due to the federal government shutdown and cut back client services. Among the workers furloughed were those who perform occupational safety and health inspections, provide services to disabled veterans, generate employment data and support information technology, state officials report.

• The Buffalo Workforce Development Consortium and Workforce Investment Board furloughed 36 employees as of October 2. According to Buffalo Business First, the “Buffalo Employment and Training Center (BETC) has been closed indefinitely. . . . BETC customers have been redirected to the New York State Department of Labor and to the Educational Opportunity Center for assistance.”

• The State of Kansas has reduced the hours of the state’s many one-stop workforce development centers, and one major provider has furloughed 60 percent of their staff.

• All Missouri Work Assistance (MWA) employees have been furloughed until further notice, which means that comprehensive workforce development services such as orientation/assessment, case management, Individual Employment Plan (IEP) development, and training and employment services will not be available until these employees are able to return to work.

• All Workforce Connection Adult/Dislocated Worker Programs in LaCrosse, WI are suspended and the entire staff is furloughed.

• In Binghamton, NY, ten county employees who provide workforce development services have had their positions cut from five  to three days a week as a result of the federal government shutdown.

And the list goes on.

The services that these offices provide are desperately needed by low-income and unemployed workers so that they can obtain training and find new, well-paying jobs.  However, if the federal government shutdown continues more and more local programs will have to lay off workers, curtail hours, and possibly shut down completely.

People across America who were receiving outstanding assistance through their local Workforce Investment Act programs will be without services or a place to turn to to get the employment assistance they need.  We as a nation cannot afford this.  The most important thing we can do right now is get people back to work.

There is only one solution to this problem: reopen the federal government now and allow grant funds like those supporting Workforce Investment Act programs to begin to flow again.

Please contact your Representative today by phone, email or Twitter, and let them know that you support the passage of a clean continuing resolution for fiscal year 2014 so that people impacted by this shutdown can get back to work.

 

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses the merits of German and Swiss apprenticeship programs and college credentials, heartland startup culture, a new incubator program in Arizona, and a community benefits agreement between Columbia University and West Harlem. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development.”

A recent publication by the Richmond Fed describes the merits of German/Swiss-style apprenticeships for students, helping them transition into the working world more easily. The results speak for themselves; unemployment for ages 15-24 last year in Switzerland was 7.7%, 8.5% in Germany, and 17.3% in the US. Other factors are surely at play, but on-the-job training makes a big difference. The US still focuses largely on the attainment of traditional university degrees, leaving high-tech manufacturers looking for qualified applicants and creating a stigma that technical education is a step down. That’s not to say that college isn’t worthwhile, as university graduates tend to have better job prospects and higher earning potential in the long-term. There doesn’t have to be a trade-off though; the best approach is likely “not an either-or, but a dual system.”

Over at Bloomberg, Peter Orszag takes the view that more college graduates would contribute to faster economic growth.  He reckons that a slowdown in the rate of college degree attainment has made income inequality worse and stifled growth.

A new network is forming in Arizona called the Alexandria Network, which will place incubator-style co-working spaces in public libraries.  It’s a collaboration between Arizona State and ASU Venture Catalyst, along with the Scottsdale Public Library. The plan is to eventually scale the model across the state. The pilot program will have the support of the City of Scottsdale’s economic development team, and ASU will use “proven startup content, experienced entrepreneurial mentors, and ‘pracademic’ teaching modules” to support the new spaces. According to Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, “we are creating an ecosystem for success to occur in Scottsdale, and many companies here are benefitting from that.” He also adds, “…the free resources and opportunities to connect and learn from fellow business people provided through the Alexandria Network will be a powerful asset for them.”

If you’re interested in startups, entrepreneurship, and accelerators, particularly in destinations that aren’t Silicon Valley or New York, the Wall Street Journal has a whole host of articles for you to peruse.  One of the locales WSJ features is Omaha, Nebraska, a middle-American city not exactly known for its dynamic entrepreneurial climate. But there are advantages to Omaha that aren’t always that obvious. For one, “while more and more startups are drawn to Omaha, it’s not quite as saturated with competition like New York City or Silicon Valley. That makes new businesses strong magnets for talent who are looking for fresh opportunities. Not only is it easier to recruit local talent, Midwestern transplants on the coasts are often looking for opportunities to come back home, where the cost of living is lower.” Also, in Midwestern tradition, “there’s an incredibly strong work ethic,” and “the community support for local businesses is…pretty powerful.”

Columbia University’s expansion in New York City has been a point of contention in West Harlem, but a community benefits agreement is allowing community groups access to much needed funds. The agreement between Columbia and the West Harlem Local Development Corporation entails $76 million to be disbursed to the WHLDC over 16 years. The money is handed out to community applicants in grant cycles, and the applications “paint a nuanced portrait of West Harlem.” Some of the proposals are for elbow-grease projects in community development, while others are for creative projects such as a proposal to “teach about 25 youths how to raise organic fish and produce using an aquaponic system.”

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses free online education, the economic impact of hosting a Super Bowl, a new ILO report, and the difficult passage from education to employment. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development.”

I don’t always agree with Tom Friedman, but when I do, it’s when he’s optimistic about free online education sites like Coursera and Udacity. Simply put, these sites have blown up. Friedman notes that last May, 300,000 students were taking 38 courses through Coursera; today, the site has 2.4 million students taking 214 courses from 33 universities. Friedman likes to imagine how these education platforms could change foreign aid, but in an economic development context, I’m thinking about how they could change workforce development.  Nothing can match on-the-job, in-person work experience, but think about how a student could learn – for free – the underlying features of, or how to operate, advanced manufacturing machinery before he or she steps on the factory floor. Right now, many of the courses offered online are purely theoretical, but this is the internet; there’s plenty of room to add more applied subjects. And, as a current Coursera user, if the student is completely committed to the curriculum, these courses do work.

The Super Bowl is this weekend. What’s it worth to the host city, in this case New Orleans? Reuters reports that “officials have estimated the economic impact of the Super Bowl on New Orleans at $434 million, outstripping a projected $238 million for the annual Mardi Gras festival the following week.” But the city has also put up big money in preparation: $350 million on the airport, $95 million on the convention center, and $300 million on the Superdome, where the game will be played. Of course, there are a number of skeptics who dispute the Super Bowl boost. CBS News reports that actual economic activity rarely meets rosy pre-game predictions, mostly due to how the forecasts are formulated. For New Orleans though, Super Bowl weekend is about more than the dollars that will flow into the city. It’s another bright spot on the long road back from the devastation that Katrina brought to this tourist-dependent destination.

Unfortunately, the International Labor Organization released a report last week that predicts a rise in global unemployment and a worsening of the “skills mismatch.” While many (including NLC) are still debating whether the data bare out a true skills mismatch in the US, the ILO uses global data to state its case. The story goes that in the crisis, many workers lost their jobs in industries that were contracting, so the chance of being employed in the same industry was slim. Being forced to switch to a new industry or sector inevitably led to a situation where the worker’s skill set was not suitable to find new employment. Another reason for persistent unemployment is that investment has not returned to pre-crisis levels. The report explains: “The indecision of policymakers in several countries has led to uncertainty about future conditions and reinforced corporate tendencies to increase cash holdings or pay dividends rather than expand capacity and hire new workers.” Get the full report here.

McKinsey has been studying the passage from education to employment – why employers are finding it difficult to find graduates with adequate preparedness for the workplace. Keep in mind that McKinsey tracked global data, but certain themes emerge, such as a disconnect between what education providers think they are offering, what students think they are getting out of education, and what employers are seeing in applicants and new hires. For example, 72% of education providers believe “new graduates are ready to work,” while only 42% of employers and 45% of youth feel this way. Also, “39% of education providers believe the main reason students drop out is that the course study is too difficult, but only 9% of youth say this is the case (they are more apt to blame affordability).” Get the full report here.

Leading City Issues of 2012: Snapshot from CitiesSpeak.org

Jobs and the economy, sustainability, government performance, youth violence prevention, community design, and, wouldn’t you know it, beer, emerged as leading city themes of 2012.  We surveyed the most read posts of the year from NLC’s CitiesSpeak.org blog to get a snapshot of the top local issues on the minds of readers. In order of most viewed content:

  • Cities Court Craft Breweries
    Craft breweries have caught the eyes of local officials and economic developers and they are encouraging the development, growth, and attraction of these companies.   Beer photo
  • “New Urbanism”: What Does it Mean to City Leaders?
    The term new urbanism brings about visions of the constructed reality of Truman Burbank—played by actor Jim Carey in the 1998 Hollywood movie, The Truman Show.  The movie depicts Burbank’s fabricated made-for-TV life in his made-for-TV small town and was filmed on location in Seaside, Florida.
  • Economic Benefits of Green Cities
    From energy efficient strategies for buildings to increasing opportunities for recreation and tourism, cities are taking action and seeing returns on their sustainability investments.
  • Anything New in Economic Attraction?
    Business attraction has been and continues to be an essential part of economic development for many communities. In the context of difficult political, economic and fiscal realities, have economic attraction strategies changed?

In 2013, expect new content on a wide-range of issues, such as city fiscal conditions, business development, workforce development and post-secondary success, sustainable local food systems, municipal broadband, neighborhood revitalization, veterans housing, education, dropout recovery, afterschool learning opportunities, violence prevention, health and wellness, family financial stability, and local data initiatives.

Do Your Businesses Have the Talent They Need to Succeed?

In 2011, the 10 county region of Northeast Indiana around Ft. Wayne was the leading region for percentage of year over year job growth. The region’s success in the face of challenging economic conditions wasn’t an accident. It was the result of intentional alignment between its workforce and economic development efforts.

This concept of workforce as an economic development strategy has its grounding in very practical business retention, expansion and attraction goals.  Do businesses have the talent they need to succeed in your community?

During a workshop at NLC’s recent Congress of Cities in Boston, Beyond Skills Mismatch: Aligning Workforce and Economic Development, Fred Dedrick, Executive Director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, spoke about his past in the economic development realm and his efforts to attract foreign investment to the state of Pennsylvania.

“Prospects need to know that they will be able to find appropriately skilled labor. The only way to convince them is to have industry leaders in your community affirm the success they’ve had with the local talent pool.”

But what if they can’t…?

As local leaders, you won’t know unless you ask because, as Dedrick poignantly noted, “you can’t use Google to find this information.”

And this takes us back to Northeast Indiana’s story.

In 2009, the workforce development system for the region—managed through the Northeast Indiana Regional Workforce Investment Board —was dismantled and reconstructed to become a “demand driven” system. “

In this system, the customers are businesses and the products are credentials,” noted Kathleen Randolph, President and CEO of the workforce board, during the session.

“This means that anyone trained in the system learns a certified skill or degree that is needed by companies in the region,” added John Sampson, President and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

In collaboration with Sampson’s regional economy development organization, the workforce system was realigned to the needs of local companies expanding and/or relocating in the region within key growth industries, such as medical devices, transportation logistics and food processing.

Regional partners, including local economic developers, industry leaders, community investors, workforce and educational partners, and elected officials, are all tapped to help find information about talent needs and bring those skills to bear in the region.

Key to Northeast Indiana’s success is understanding industry needs, and this strategy is gaining momentum in communities across the country.

With 15,000 layoffs in the aviation sector since 2009, more anticipated with the impending closing of Boeing, and consistent recruiting of aviation companies from other states, the City of Wichita developed a regional aviation sector strategy for workforce and economic development.

One initiative in the region, the Preparation for Advanced Career Employment System (PACES), seeks to increase the number of high skilled workers.  In particular, the initiative is guided by employer driven partnerships that provide a direct value-add to the participating businesses (i.e. incumbent worker training).

The City of Wichita is a funder of PACES, but equally important, is the role of elected officials in providing leadership for the program.

During the NLC workshop, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer identified several ways he supports the alignment of workforce and economic development through PACES:

  •  Lead planning meetings with industry leaders;
  • Attend site visits by outside funders and investors of the program;
  • Be a champion and lead by example. The Mayor not only committed project funding but also assigned senior staff to the program leadership team; and
  • Leverage partnerships to help pool resources and braid funding from those including local and national philanthropy, community based organizations, and federal government.

In the coming months, NLC will be providing resources for local leaders to help align workforce and economic development in their communities. For more information or to receive this information directly, contact me at mcfarland@nlc.org.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a new report focused on the recent (and future) performance of the Great Plains, the Boston Consulting Group’s take on the skills gap, an example of the “knowledge problem” with regard to incentives in Oregon, and preparing your city for millennials. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development.”

A new report by Joel Kotkin takes on the role of America’s Great Plains in the 21st century. Many observers (those on the coasts) had predicted the region’s downfall, but in reality, the Great Plains have done very well: “Paced by strong growth in agriculture, manufacturing and energy – as well as a growing tech sector – the Great Plains now boasts the lowest unemployment rate of any region.” Three factors will continue this trend: 1) natural resource wealth; 2) technological advancement; and 3) demographic changes. Download the full report here.

The Boston Consulting Group says that the “skills gap in US manufacturing is less pervasive than many believe.” This statement follows the consulting firm’s continued predictions of a resurgent US manufacturing sector. BCG notes that the shortage represents less than 1% of all US manufacturing workers and less than 8% of highly skilled manufacturing workers. Furthermore, “only seven states – six of which are in the bottom quartile of US state manufacturing output – show significant or severe skills gaps.” That said, the report notes that a skills gap could be a growing problem down the road, particularly as high-skilled manufacturing workers begin to retire. The release also highlights a few programs designed to close the gap, including Quick Start in Georgia and the Austin Polytechnical Academy in Chicago.

Salesforce.com’s recent decision to open in office in Portland, Oregon, highlights the murky environment of economic development attraction, where imperfect information often places officials between a rock and a hard place. Utah was also trying to land the firm and was purportedly preparing to offer a multi-million dollar package, but no deal materialized. On the surface, the end result makes Oregon look foolish for offering generous terms when with no real competitor, but the idea that Oregon was pre-emptively preparing for an incentive war is probably misguided; the Oregon Business Development Department said that its offer wasn’t based on what Utah was or wasn’t offering. It “weighted the value of the Salesforce jobs against the cost of incentives.”

At Governing.com, Bill Fulton prophesizes that “just like baby boomers, the preferences of the millennials will drive our society for two generations. They’re making location decisions based on their idea of quality of life. And they’re going to make all those decisions in the next few years – by the time they’re 35.” Fulton reckons that if cities want to attract these up-and-comers, decision makers and planners only have a few years to set the tone. But he likes what he is seeing; from Omaha, Nebraska to Rochester, New York, second tier cities are developing urban cores to cater to millennial tastes.

*** The “Latest in” will go on a short hiatus and return in December.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a new type of hybrid high school/community college, the merits (and demerits) of casinos, Chinese and Japanese FDI, and downtown development. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Since education is so closely tied to our nation’s future economic success, it’s very encouraging to see out-of-the-ordinary schools like New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School cropping up. Pathways is a school that features a six-year curriculum developed with help from IBM where students “emerge with associate’s degrees in applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology.” This proactive program is designed to prepare students for entry-level technology jobs by giving them not only tech skills, but also skills to navigate the workplace. Other cities and states are taking notice, with Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee planning to create similar schools. In the end, it’s all about bringing careers closer to the classroom.

If you live in the DC area, you’ve probably seen about a gazillion campaign commercials concerning a new casino project in Maryland. Are these projects all they’re cracked up to be?The motivation behind allowing new casinos is that they often provide increased tax revenue for cities and states, which can be a blessing considering the current state of public finance. Also, they provide jobs, though the majority of new jobs are for lower-skilled workers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But casinos aren’t immune to economic cycles, and industry revenues haven’t returned to their 2007 peak. Furthermore, “last year, wages and the number of jobs fell across the industry. And commercial casino tax revenue dropped in 9 of 22 states.” Competition from neighboring casinos in saturated markets can also put a damper on expected tax revenue increases.

“In just the first three quarters of 2012, Chinese businesses have invested $6.3 billion in foreign direct investment projects in the United States. It’s already the most capital Chinese firms have ever invested in the US in one year” says a new report from the Rhodium Group. Most of these deals are mergers and acquisitions – not greenfield investments – which can be interpreted positively or negatively depending on who you are. But Chinese FDI has largely been concentrated in advanced manufacturing and energy, sectors which provide higher wages for Americans.  Japanese firms are also getting involved, with Softbank’s acquisition of Sprint being the “largest Japanese acquisition of (an) American company in more than 30 years.” The deal highlights a cultural shift in the perception of Japanese FDI in America, where something that was once feared is now welcomed. Some of this fear has now been transferred to Chinese investment, sometimes justified, but other times overblown. Stay tuned for Monday’s post about Toledo, Ohio’s pursuit of Chinese FDI.

Why is Savannah, GA’s downtown booming, and how is Rock Hill, SC trying to revitalize theirs?Savannah has been able to take advantage of the tremendous assets it already has (walkability, tourism, history and the Savannah College of Art & Design) to transform its downtown for the better after a relatively rough period only a few years ago. It has turned into a modern take on an American classic. Rock Hill has also gone through a rough stretch with regard to its downtown, and, like Savannah, it has a historic city core.  Through infrastructure improvements, street-scaping, and a mix of incentives to attract businesses, Rock Hill is doing its best to take advantage of its historic assets, though not everyone is on board.

Education Re-engagement Centers Spreading

This week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a new network of 13 “YouthSource Centers.”  These centers constitute the latest addition to similar one-stop dropout recovery efforts now operating in cities as varied as Davenport, Iowa, and Boston, Massachusetts.  Based on evidence of significant numbers of youth and young adults who have not finished high school and who need referrals to good education options, these “reengagement centers” constitute a critically needed new piece of local youth development infrastructure.  And cities play key roles incubating or hosting the centers, along with school districts and others.

Los Angeles’ new approach shares important characteristics with dropout reengagement initiatives in other cities – most importantly, cross-system collaboration to assist its 100,000 or so 16-24 year olds who are out of school and out of work.  The City of Los Angeles Community Development Department (CDD), which manages workforce funds, led the planning for the centers along with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  CDD contributes $13 million to pay for physical space and to provide for operation of the centers by community-based organizations, and raised an additional $12 million from the federal Workforce Innovation Fund to serve 1,200 more potential students and pay for a rigorous evaluation.  LAUSD places a Pupil Service and Attendance Counselor at each of the centers, which represents an in-kind contribution totaling $1 million.

Reengagement centers in Philadelphia and Boston, started by city-school district and Boston Private Industry Council-school district partnerships, respectively, helped create interest in the approach by hosting visits by many in the dropout recovery field.  Boston closely tracks and supports re-engaged students after they pass through assessment and referral steps at the center, and can now boast a “stick rate” of nearly 70% of students remaining in school for one year after re-engagement.

Centers now operate in Omaha, Nebraska; Dubuque, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; each of the five New York City boroughs; and three New Jersey cities based on locally-built creative partnerships.  Denver, Aurora, and Boulder, Colorado are leading experimentation with “virtual reengagement,” in which roving outreach staff go where dropouts congregate and provide referral services on line — without anyone having to go to a certain address.  Denver Mayor Michael Hancock supports this with a public endorsement of the “Drop In Denver” campaign.

Federal education policy reflects an upgraded interest in dropout recovery via requirements for recipients of High School Graduation Initiative grants from the U.S. Department of Education.  The result: new centers opening in Davenport, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; and Pasadena, California.  HSGI grants also partially support the virtual activity in Colorado.

For municipal leaders, the development of reengagement centers and similar upgrades to dropout recovery efforts bear close attention, and support when the time is right.  Moving dropouts back into school holds great promise for achieving credentials at the high school level and beyond, building more fully contributing citizens for the long term.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a Brookings event focused on skilled immigrants, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City summit held last week, a book review by the Urbanophile’s Aaron Renn, and new trends in venture capital.

Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Last week,  Brookings hosted a presentation and panel discussion on “Building and Unlocking Immigrant Skills.” The focus was on providing middle and highly-skilled immigrants (which make up 70% of all immigrants) resources to unlock their full potential in the United States. The panel highlighted some promising programs to do just that. Jose Ramon Fernandez-Pena explained the Welcome Back Initiative, which he founded; WBI assists medically trained professionals educated abroad to meet the requirements needed for positions in the US health care industry. Kevin Kelly talked about Upwardly Global (he is on the board), which bridges the gap between employers and skilled immigrants. And Bob Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, elucidated the need to make younger immigrants aware of opportunities in their communities to develop skills that they may have never thought about pursuing.

Also last week, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City held its 2012 Inner City Economic Summit. According to ICIC: “During the 2012 Inner City Economic Summit, city, civic and business leaders will gather to share practices that are proving durable in this fiscal climate; an engaging agenda will extend on-the-ground efforts and identify adaptable solutions.” They have made videos of the presentations (which include talks from Michael Porter and Cory Booker) available on their website.

Over at the Urbanophile blog,  Aaron Renn gives a thoughtful review of The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti. The central premise of the book as Renn explains it is an idea that has been quite obvious to those observing economic trends of the last 30 years or so: “As radical productivity enhancements and global competition reduced employment and wages in traditional sectors like manufacturing, new knowledge based industries took their place. However, these knowledge industries require… highly educated workers with specialized skills. This leads to clustering of workers and jobs in select hubs, leaving many communities out in the cold.”

The recent investor obsession with social networking platforms is slowly shifting to companies that provide actual business solutions. Rough IPO debuts by companies like Facebook and Groupon have definitely contributed. The Wall Street Journal writes of Marcus Ryu, head of Guidewire Software, which makes software for insurance companies: “Some investment bankers told him he couldn’t hope to land a similar valuation to Groupon’s or Zynga’s – even though his firm… was increasing revenues by double digits to around $175 million a year and was profitable.” With the change in investor sentiment, now Ryu is “getting a dozen calls a week from investors.”