A decade ago, the work of economic development organizations centered almost entirely around the concepts of building and land availability, business retention and expansion, tax incentives, and local utility capacity.
As municipalities have fine-tuned their efforts to be more competitive in these areas, it has created a much more level playing field throughout regions, states, and the nation as a whole. It has also forced economic-development professionals to shift strategies and resources toward the latest differentiating factor: workforce.
The declining rate of labor force participation throughout the US has become the new frontier of economic development. One cause of this decline is a simple matter of an aging workforce; a trend that will only intensify in the coming years. Additionally, middle-class jobs require higher skill levels today than in years past, though not all skills will require the higher education that Americans were indoctrinated into over the past few decades.
If economic-development organizations hope to offset these trends, they must find new and creative ways to enlarge the labor force and increase productivity — a task that most agree will require the collaborative efforts of businesses, educators and public/private organizations. With this in mind, the Norwalk Economic Development Corp. is preparing to roll out Conduit U; a program designed to introduce Norwalk area kids to local career possibilities.
In an interview earlier this week, NEDC Executive Director Heather Horowitz addressed the skills gap.
“According to a recent Adecco State of the Economy survey, 64 percent of U.S. senior executives think that the lack of a skilled workforce will result in less investment in U.S. companies,” she said.
“CEOs across the region are reporting shortages of middle-class workers in nearly every sector. The danger in these shortages,” Horowitz said, is that “as these jobs remain unfilled, businesses will be slower to expand, which will impede growth of the economy overall.”
Conduit U hopes to counter this trend by connecting students to future career opportunities through engaging instructional videos, career fairs and industry tours. Beginning this fall, NEDC will partner with Norwalk’s public and parochial schools, area businesses and secondary educational institutions to create a pipeline of workers by exposing students to the many career options available right here in Norwalk.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch next week’s Reflector for part two of this series.