The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news.
Last month’s International Economic Development Council (IEDC) annual conference made me feel good about New Vision’s new five-year plan and focus. The big event attracted hundreds of economic developers from across the country and around the world. Conference topics varied widely but three takeaways from the event make our organization and Valley look pretty smart.
A top theme at the conference centered on talent. Every community in the country faces numerous challenges attracting, preparing or delivering a workforce that drives business growth and regional prosperity. A talent attraction session confirmed that our efforts to help employers recruit key new employees to the Valley is vital. After listening to panelists describe their people attraction efforts I am proud to say we are right there with Boise, Houston, Michigan and others in terms of specific things we are doing that impact employee recruitment.
Our primary schools are also tracking well against other area’s efforts to develop a skilled workforce for tomorrow. STEM education got heavy emphasis at the conference and several speakers discussed the import of providing work based learning opportunities for kids. Our STEM videos and current work to build business education partnerships are right on point – we are definitely a leader in terms of connecting schools with employers.
The other workforce theme focused on getting longer term unemployed workers back into the labor force. Many employers are hungry for workers as the economy improves and there are a lot of hard working people out there still searching for jobs. To address this situation we recently added a couple resume bank links on our www.workyakimavalley.com. This site is become our most popular website over the past couple months – a testament to how important this issue is for our community.
Another key conference theme surrounded entrepreneurship. Communities across the country are realizing that how they care for emerging businesses is vital to their local economies. Our business plan contest and related efforts to support local business are becoming commonplace across the United States. Other cities are doing more to help established businesses (ex. Economic Gardening). States like Tennessee are also ahead of us launching accelerators and broader regional business development efforts. New Vision has made a good down payment on helping emerging and established businesses – the conference showed where we have some room to grow (like Washington State).
The final takeway: business recruitment is no longer the model for economic development. There were not any conference sessions on marketing or attraction which was a significant change from past years. Chasing factories has given way to helping grow local businesses AND building communities that can support and attract people. These “Placemaking” initiatives are common - cities are creating vibrant downtowns, investing in education and helping local businesses succeed. Don’t get me wrong – recruiting business is still a mainstay within economic development – it just doesn’t foreshadow or stunt other strategies. Communities are also showing that placemaking efforts make their regions more attractive to new businesses.
In three short days I learned a lot at the IEDC event. It give me a lot of confidence we are doing the right things to advance the Valley economy. More importantly some of the new ideas picked up energized me that we still have a lot of work to do to sustain our Yakima Valley economy. I’ll look forward to share some of the new stuff we are doing as a result of picking up some new ideas at the annual conference.