Region Forward Blog

Innovative inspiration for Metro Washington brought to you by Detroit

Nov 21, 2011


Alicia Lewis and Sophie Mintier Housing Planners at MWCOG recently attended PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2011 in Detroit. The “Dispatches from Detroit” series will provide RF followers a recap of what they learned as well as specific proposals to move our Region Forward. This is Sophie’s first post in the series. Read other “Dispatches” posts here.

Earlier this month 2500 researchers policymakers advocates and activists gathered in Detroit for PolicyLink’s Equity Summit 2011. A wide range of topics were discussed during the summit with income and social equity and economic growth being the overriding themes. As high unemployment rates persist around the country the economy and jobs unsurprisingly emerged as a major focus during the conference.

Detroit is a fascinating place to think about economic and workforce development. The city’s ongoing economic hardships are well-known to the rest of the country but its creative determined responses to these challenges are far less known. On a tour of workforce and economic development sites throughout the city we had an opportunity to see many examples of efforts to rebuild a more inclusive and resilient Detroit.

We visited organizations providing rigorous job training programs and comprehensive supportive services to help low-skill workers develop the skills that local employers actually need. At Focus: HOPE we were surprised to learn that Detroit – the Motor City – has significant unmet demand for auto machinists. Working closely with area employers the organization trains students in machining as well as IT weatherization and engineering (all sectors predicted to grow over the coming decades) while also providing job placement financial literacy and child care services.

We also learned about local initiatives to support Detroit entrepreneurs and emerging industries such as TechTown a business incubator that supports 250 local companies providing entrepreneurs with office space business plan training coaching and other resources to help get their ventures off the ground. Across the street at Next Energy we heard about the organization’s research and development efforts to support smart grid renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies throughout Michigan.

Though the context differs sharply these efforts to empower residents and revitalize the city’s economy provide relevant examples for metropolitan Washington. While we don’t have the widespread disinvestment unemployment and poverty that Detroit faces many communities within our region do suffer from low educational attainment high poverty rates and joblessness – realities we have to confront in order to meet many of our Region Forward goals such as achieving “a diversified stable and competitive economy with a wide range of employment opportunities and a focus on sustainable development” and “minimizing economic disparities and enhancing the prosperity of each jurisdiction and the region as a whole through balanced growth and access to high-quality jobs for everyone.”

To move the region closer to meeting these goals the Region Forward Impact Team a working group within the Region Forward Coalition has taken up workforce development as one of its core areas of focus. What would a workforce development strategy look like in our region? We can start by focusing on industries slated to grow in the coming decades. Health care though just one example is poised to grow exponentially in our region. There will be a much greater need for hospital and clinic technicians and for in-home health aides as more and more Baby Boomers choose to stay in their homes as they age. Jobs like these can provide viable career pathways for lower-skilled workers. We need to identify skills needed and the barriers to employment in these jobs. We need to develop programs to equip residents with the skills they need and systems to better connect workers with employers. We need to reduce barriers to employment such as single-jurisdiction certifications by creating new regional standards so that workers are eligible for jobs across the region.

Detroit has some inspiring examples of how to connect marginalized residents and communities to emerging economic opportunities. As we prepare for major industry shifts in our own regional economy equity must be integral our strategies. A more inclusive economy will build a stronger more prosperous metropolitan Washington.

Sophie Mintier

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