Fostering Economic Innovation: The Role of the Talent Pipeline

June 30, 2014

Molly Coleman

Santa Clara, California

Gaps in the "talent pipeline" pose a serious challenge as city leaders strive to develop a robust and innovative local economy. Just years out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the United States still faces an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, translating into roughly 12 million adults who are out of work.

Yet despite this surplus of workers, there are currently 3.6 million job openings that cannot be filled because of a mismatch between the skills that are required and those available in the local workforce. By 2030, the majority of all jobs in the U.S. are projected to require a college degree, but only 36 percent of today's work force has either an Associate's or Bachelor's degree. The economic health of our cities and towns will require focused and creative leadership at the city level.

At this year's NLC University Leadership Summit, held from August 13-16, 2014, in Santa Clara, California, nationally-renowned economic development consultant Amy Holloway will help participants identify the steps they can take in three key areas -- workforce development, improving the local regulatory environment, and employing innovative approaches to small business incubation -- in order to foster stronger economic growth.

Around the country, despite the challenges that they face, cities are proving to be effective drivers of economic development through innovative actions. In Brownwood, Texas, like in much of the rest of the country, there was a clear misalignment of the skillsets of the workforce with the needs of the local businesses. While there was a high demand for metalworkers and welders, there simply were not enough workers prepared to fill these jobs, causing potential employers to leave the city. In response, city leaders formed a partnership with a local community college in order to create a mobile welding training center.

When Charlotte, N.C., faced similar gaps in the talent pipeline, a coalition of municipal and county governments in the Greater Charlotte region created the Centralina Career Headlight, a website aimed at students in high school and college, career counselors, and adult workers who are unemployed or underemployed. In addition to providing users with information on the job opportunities in the region, it shows the education and training needed to help young people achieve their career goals, and where in the area that training can be found. By making clear to students as early as high school what skills they will need in order to be a desirable candidate in the workforce, Centralina is able to set the stage for improved economic development in Charlotte and the surrounding areas for years to come.

In Berkeley, California, the public schools are going one step further, not only providing the resources for students to become career-ready, but actively creating curricula that ensure students will graduate ready to join an innovative 21st century workforce. Through their Green Academy, students in 9th grade have the option of joining a small learning community for the next four years that focuses on environmental sustainability and social justice. In preparing students for higher education opportunities and future careers that make use of math and science skills, as well as critical thinking and global awareness, the Green Academy is fostering a generation of citizens who will be able to actively grow an innovative local and national economy.

City officials at all levels have a critical role to play in using workforce strategies to foster innovation in the local economy. Through her session at the 2014 Leadership Summit, Ms. Holloway will show what smart cities around the country are doing to tackle the challenges that they face in ways that create long-term, sustainable economic growth. Participants will leave with not only an accurate assessment of current strengths and weaknesses, but also with tangible next steps to take in order to become leaders in supporting economic innovation.

About the Speaker: Amy Holloway is the founder and president of Avalanche Consulting, Inc., one of the nation's leading economic development firms. She has spent the past two decades creating economic development plans for organizations throughout the U.S. and Europe, working for AngelouEconomics prior to founding Avalanche. Since its founding in 2005, Avalanche has guided its clients to develop clear economic goals and plans to address the challenges they will face, resulting in the creation of thousands of new jobs and over $3 billion in new capital investments.