NLC Survey Provides Insight on City Workforce Development Activities

February 7, 2011

by Katie McConnell 

The recession has highlighted the important role worker training and retraining plays in economic recovery and longer-term economic competitiveness. To understand how city governments are responding to workforce development issues, NLC's Center for Research and Innovation included a special section on workforce development in its annual State of America's Cities Survey.

According to the responses, released last week in a research brief, State of America's Cities: Special Section on Workforce Development, nearly one in three (31 percent) city governments report becoming more involved in workforce development efforts in light of the recession. One in two report that workforce development and training is either a major (10 percent) or moderate (42 percent) challenge for their communities.

The survey results highlight some potential governance and partnership challenges between workforce investment boards (WIBs) and city governments.

According to the survey responses, the second highest city workforce development activity is attending and participating in meetings of local workforce investment boards (42 percent). On the other hand, workforce investment boards were the second-least reported partner for city collaboration on workforce development activities (24 percent).

This could be a sign that the legislatively required pieces of the relationship (such as having a city representative on a WIB) are fairly common and occurring on a local level. Less common, however, are collaborative relationships between cities and WIBs, which would likely be the result of voluntary leadership efforts between the WIB and city government. 

The survey results also provide some insight about the relationship between economic development and workforce development.

It is generally accepted that workforce development is an integral component to city economic development. According to the survey, cities are engaging in workforce development in ways that are consistent with this understanding by communicating with local businesses about workforce needs (51 percent) and partnering with chambers of commerce (68 percent) and local businesses (55 percent) for workforce development goals.

However, only one in three city officials (36 percent) responded that their cities directly connect economic development and workforce development efforts. This disconnect could be a sign that while there lacks a formalized policy relationship between economic development and workforce development efforts on the city level, informal collaborations may be occurring.

It may also reflect that while city workforce development and economic development activities involve the same group of stakeholders, the issue areas are handled in separate silos without fully aligning strategies and resources.

The full State of America's Cities: Special Section on Workforce Development report can be downloaded from the Finance and Economic Development topics page of the NLC website

Details: To learn more about NLC's Center for Research and Innovation's work on workforce and economic development or for more information about State of America's Cities: Special Section on Workforce Development, please contact Katie McConnell at