Region Forward Blog

Workforce Development a Foundation of a Successful Regional Economic Strategy

Aug 10, 2015

Middle-skill jobs can provide a strong foundation for the region’s greater economic competitiveness strategy. This was a key take-away for area officials who attended the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Annual​ Leadership Retreat, held last month in Cambridge, MD.

Denver has formed an economic development commission with a collaborative approach to attracting and locating new businesses and jobs for the region. Kansas City has focused on inclusion and connecting low-income residents to opportunity as cornerstones of its regional effort. Phoenix, Seattle, and Minneapolis have focused on bolstering K-12 education and aligning community college and workforce investment board offerings with the needs of employers, while connecting low-income residents to living-wage jobs in key industries.

Atlanta has taken a high-tech approach, according to the Regional Council’s Executive Director Douglas Hooker. They have created a searchable portal to generate real-time data on in-demand industries and occupations based on current job listings. Officials now know that software developer jobs are in high demand in the region, and are working to align their workforce strategies with these findings.

Closer to home, Prince George’s County has found a way to use new federal stormwater management rules to spur new industry and jobs. The EPA mandates that 15,000 acres of the county’s impermeable surfaces be retrofitted by 2025 with treebox raingardens, bioswales, and permeable asphalt and pavers.

"We’re going to take those federal mandates and solve this problem in a way that works for us," said Adam Ortiz, Director of Prince George’s County Department of the Environment.

Recognizing that the magnitude of the challenge would require creative approaches, the County formed a 30-year public-private partnership with project management company Corvias Solutions to oversee the design, construction, and long-term maintenance of stormwater management systems.

"As government, we can start a conversation, but we can’t always finish a conversation," said Ortiz. "This is where we need the private sector. By and large, the private sector builds stuff better than the government does."

In the first three years, the County will invest $100 million in the project. In addition to the traditional time and budget requirements, Corivas must also meet socioeconomic targets. They will use local small and minority-owned businesses and local residents for at least 40 percent of the hiring, contracting, and procurement needs. The County is already training classes of workers and contractors through partnerships with community colleges and nonprofits.

"Stormwater management can create a living piece of infrastructure," said Ortiz. "It takes a lot of maintenance, but it’s a tremendous economic opportunity."

Prince George’s County is also participating in a COG-led initiative to create a robust system for training and credentialing in stormwater management, as it’s an industry that is expected to create jobs that stimulate regional economies in addition to providing environmental benefits. This "Communities that Work Partnership" also includes the Anacostia River Initiative and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and is supported by the Workforce Strategies Initiative (AspenWSI) of the Aspen Institute and the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Read more.

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