College town makes the grade
In early November, a group of stakeholders from Tuscaloosa publicly signed a memorandum of agreement outlining a shared commitment to integrate the region’s manufacturing and industrial base to better match the skills of students graduating from the University of Alabama.
The move was intended to realign the local economy to include more knowledge-based, tech-driven jobs, so the university city could retain a larger portion of its student population.
“The opportunity we have from an economic development perspective is diversifying our economic base,” said Jim Page, president and CEO at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “We’re hoping this formal partnership is going to lead to more knowledge-based jobs being created, so we can hold on to a larger percentage of our college grads.”
The memorandum was signed at the chamber’s annual State of the Economy event, in which it hosts local economic and subject matter experts to forecast trends for the upcoming year. The function was attended by elected leaders, university administrators and several local development agencies.
“The ceremony was really about generating public awareness, as much as anything,” said Page, adding that, “It was largely a symbolic gesture that shows we’re going to start working toward this new goal of collaboration.”
Page says the agreement was inspired by conversations from conference calls and roundtables with the University Communities Council, an ACCE peer-group that enables chamber pros from college towns to collaborate and share best practices. He credits Vern Squier from the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County in Pennsylvania and Lyle Butler from the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce in Kansas for introducing him to similar agreements from their regions.
“Right out of the gate, I’ve got two chamber colleagues who’ve had success doing this, so there was kind of a template for our group to use,” he said. “We never would’ve known about those agreements — and chances are we wouldn’t be where we are now — had I not been engaged with the University Communities Council.”
“We’re hoping this will enable us to grow and recruit more knowledge-based, white-collar jobs,” he added. “I’m hopeful that all of those forces working together can turn years of talk into real action, and that action will result in a diversified economic base that allows us to retain more of our best and brightest college students.”
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