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Remembering Those Who Said: "I'll go."

Mick Fleming on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 

This particular holiday always gets me.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Memorial Day involved memories of nearly forgotten wars of prior generations. In 1866, those who envisioned the first “Decoration Day” in Waterloo, N.Y., (not far from my college campus) thought they would never experience war like the one they had just survived. But the War Between the States wasn’t even over before the wars of westward expansion flared on the prairies, soon followed by fights with Mexico, Spain, Germany and so forth. Today, our longest war (not counting the Cold one) is still not concluded in Afghanistan and the list of hot spots keeps growing.

In fact, last fall, President Obama and his generals admitted that we are simply “at war,” perhaps in perpetuity. “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” retired Air Force general Charles F. Wald told the Washington Post soon after a similar public statement from the White House.

So how does this new reality, a continuous state of war against non-traditional stateless enemies, impact a holiday set aside to commemorate soldiers who died in service to their country? In truth, it makes Memorial Day more pertinent; it is a real-time concern. Yes, we remember with awe the bomber crews of my father’s squadron who died 70 years ago. We must also take stock, however, of those who were lost last week, and we are aware that others will fall victim to IEDs, rockets, embassy raids and equipment failure next week. Sadly, in 2015, Memorial Day does not require acute memory power.

So, please celebrate this weekend by watching the little leaguers march (meander aimlessly) in the annual parade, or by shopping for sales at the tire store. The people who are in harms’ way tell me they want us to enjoy every American pastime and picnic. But I hope we will also pause for just a second or two to “decorate” the memories of those who said: “I’ll go.”

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Two Birds, One Stone

Hannah Nequist on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 4:00:00 pm 
Charleston Chamber in DC and Richmond

Last week, the Charleston Metro Chamber was able to check two major programmatic boxes with one trip. On their way to Richmond for an annual ICV, they added a D.C. leg to the trip. After a direct arrival into Reagan National Airport, thanks to the recent addition of JetBlue service to the Charleston Airport, the delegation headed for the Capitol Visitor’s Center for lunch.

Chamber members met with staffers from their key legislators and spent time with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a crowd favorite. Each guest spent time addressing some of the chamber’s highest priority issues: Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, the deepening of the Charleston harbor and passage of a new federal highway authorization bill. The legislators’ familiarity with the chamber’s key focus areas was a testament to the chamber’s advocacy efforts.

Senator Scott expressed gratitude to the chamber, saying, “Thank you for what you do to help make our community amazing.” When asked what the delegation could do to continue their support of the region, Scott advised local businesses to help create the future today, stressing the importance of being on the cutting edge of high tech advancements and also to focus on middle-skill jobs.

After lunch, a charter bus transported the group south to Virginia’s capitol. In a partnership with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the Charleston Metro Chamber produced a Regional Economic Scorecard which compares Charleston’s data from 2005-2013 against six similar cities and two “leading economies”, with Richmond among the comparative. Selecting Richmond as the destination for their 4th Annual Metro Leadership Visit allowed the chamber’s attendees to make practical comparisons and see how programs, practices and initiatives could be realistically translated back to their own community.

The first stop in Richmond took attendees to Rocketts Landing, a new mixed-use neighborhood on the James River. Richard Souter, one of the developers of the project, was the first to address the group. Attendees learned how the project has become a catalyst for other riverside development, such as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route and the new Stone Brewery plant and bistro. Richmond’s Economic Development Authority COO, Jane Ferrara, also talked the group through the bid process for the Stone project – one for which Charleston was also in competition.

The next two days included tours and presentations on a host of other topics such as urban living, BRT, Virginia’s Biotechnology Park, creativity and entrepreneurism. Although the range of topics was diverse, the common theme was growth and development. Several attendees alluded to a growing divide in Charleston between those that want to see the city grow, and those that want to preserve its historic charm. The chamber supports “responsible growth”, so it is no wonder they are looking to Richmond and other historic cities to see how leaders there are successfully getting things done with public support.

The diversity of topics also served as a recruitment tool for the trip. The roughly 30 delegates represented an array of industries such as banking, technology, architecture and development, educational institutions, hospitality and others. One attendee remarked that the diverse networking opportunities was a big motivator in attending the visit. She also appreciated getting to know peers in this type of environment, because it affords an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.

Also of benefit to attendees is the value of meeting with and learning from thought leaders in other flourishing destinations. One attendee, a professor at the College of Charleston, voiced his appreciation for educational opportunities such as the leadership visit. “Every time I come to a chamber event, I come away with something new. It is the only conduit to ‘all of this’”, he said as he gestured around him.   

Tags: D.C. Fly-in; Regional Benchmarking, economic development; intercity visit

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Bridging the Skills Gap in Greensboro

Jessie Azrilian on Saturday, May 16, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 

The Greensboro (NC) Chamber of Commerce has a big goal to raise higher education attainment in Guilford County to 51% by 2025. As part of this effort, they are focusing on adult college completion, with the goal of ensuring at least 1,500 adults return to school, of which 1,000 complete their degree by 2016. In 2014, the Chamber received a Lumina Education Attainment Award for their efforts to close the skills gap in their community through connecting students to aviation-related manufacturing and STEM skills.

Interview participant:

  • Deborah Hooper, President, Greensboro (NC) Chamber of Commerce

Awardee Spotlight

Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?

A: 
Employer surveys were revealing a critical skills gap in Greensboro. Local companies saying they were unable to find a workforce qualified to fill available positions juxtaposed with a high unemployment rate. The local United Way and The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro convened key stakeholders to form the Greensboro Works Task Force (Task Force).  The Task Force addressed the intersection of workforce development, family economic success, and degree and credential attainment.  After researching potential solutions, the Task Force recommended three programs:

  • Degrees Matter!: this is a shared partnership between The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Opportunity Greensboro and The United Way of Greater Greensboro whose mission is to increase the number of adults with college degrees in Greater Greensboro/High Point by engaging, connecting and supporting the 67,000+ residents who have been to college but not finished a degree.
  • National Fund for Workforce Solutions: Greensboro has been pursuing an invitation to become an official site for this unprecedented initiative of national and local funder collaboratives targeting career advancement for workers and a more skilled and stable workforce for employers. The fund provides matching dollars and technical assistance in 32 sites nationwide.  A local funders collaborative matches national funds that are re-granted to local sector-based Workforce Partnerships.
  • Family Economic Success (FES) Assessment: this is led by the local United Way. The Aspen Institute and Annie E. Casey Foundation have created frameworks that are helping communities across the country assess strengths, challenges, gaps and opportunities in the economic success of families. This assessment tool gives particular attention to improving job opportunities and building assets for families.

Q: How did your chamber become involved? 

A: The Chamber got the ball rolling in 2012 because they kept hearing that there were 1,000 “difficult to fill” jobs due to employers not finding qualified workers. That data was never sourced, and no one knew where it was coming from. The Chamber approached the local HR Management Association and Workforce Development Board to collaborate on an employer survey to assess this statistic. The problem was worse than expected: rather than 1,000 “difficult to fill” positions, the survey revealed that the actual number was 1,775 for the 136 companies that responded. The survey also revealed a critical need in the Aviation industry and Aviation-related manufacturing for workers with STEM skills.

Q: How does your chamber measure/benchmark success?

A: One goal we benchmark is raising post-secondary education attainment in Guilford County to 51% by 2025. Part of this goal is adult college completion, ensuring at least 1,500 adults to return to school, of which 1,000 complete their degree by 2016.

The chamber also regularly conducts workforce surveys in order to strengthen the workforce pipeline and continue reducing the number of “difficult to fill” jobs.

Q: How are your education/workforce development initiatives funded?

A: 
The chamber’s efforts are funded by business members through our annual fundraising campaign. The Chamber has also collaborated on a marketing initiative called Aviation Triad that is funded by six community colleges, three cities, three aerospace employers, a foundation, and the airport authority.  Aviation Triad is now in its second year raising the number of qualified applicants for available aviation jobs. The annual fundraising goal to support the Aviation Triad work is $200,000. The Chamber plans to expand the initiative through additional partnerships to reconnect the untapped talent of returning military personnel to aviation jobs. 

Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?

A: There are many facets of education reform and workforce development.  We had to figure out which one(s), if resolved, would have the greatest impact on student success and workforce/talent development.  Best practices learned include: (1) doing the necessary groundwork to develop a coalition and collaborative environment between key stakeholders that will minimize destructive politics and help keep everyone focused on staying the course to achieve the desired results; and (2) keeping everyone informed and celebrating the progress made toward desired results so that they stay engaged.

Is your chamber leading efforts to increase the proportion of people in your community with degrees and high-equality credentials? Find out more about the Lumina Education Attainment Award program, and see if your chamber is eligible! Applications are due Friday, May 22.

Tags: Economic Development, education, Goal 2025, higher education, Lumina, postsecondary, Workforce Development

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Chambers Among Top ED Groups in the Nation

Hannah Nequist on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 12:00:00 pm 

Chambers of Commerce operate under many different names, and can have very different mission statements. But one thing seems to be true across the board - chambers function to support and improve the business climate and economic vitality of the areas they serve. 

So, it comes as no surprise that the work of chambers is consistently highlighted by top Economic Development industry publications. This week, Site Selection Magazine announced its list of Top US Economic Development Groups for 2014 as part of its May issue. Chambers and their affiliated programs made up 6 of the top 10 - and 2 more were honorable mentions.

This year's top groups were selected based on four objective criteria: jobs, capital investment, jobs per capita and investment per capita. Additional subjective criteria such as creativity of ED strategy, scope of project activity and the ability to link the EDO to real results were also considered. Those chambers recognized include:

Join ACCE in congratulating these organizations on receiving recognition for their tireless efforts in support of their communities. 

Tags: Economic Developmen

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Creating Career Pathways in Aurora

Jessie Azrilian on Monday, May 4, 2015 at 3:00:00 pm 

Chambers Mobilizing Towards a "Big Goal"

Situated 35 miles west of Chicago, the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce serves as a catalyst for business development for the second largest community in the State of Illinois. In 2014, the Chamber received a Lumina Education Attainment Award to strengthen Pathways to Prosperity, a regional collective impact effort, which is developing career pathways in information technology, health sciences and advanced manufacturing. The Chamber and community partners are working to align existing programs with current and future business needs, and to ensure the initial pathways include opportunities for internships, dual credit and stackable credentials. 

Interview participant: 

  • Joseph Henning, President & CEO 

Awardee Spotlight

 Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?

 A: For more than 25 years the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce convened a business-education partnership group – which placed business-member volunteers in individual schools and even individual classrooms – but objectives were fragmented. The Pathways to Prosperity program was recognized within the state for a number of initiatives we were doing within the schools, but it just wasn’t enough considering what we were hearing from employers in Aurora about workforce needs and industry-specific skills gaps. We realized we needed to refocus our efforts and move into that new, collaborative arena.

 This is my 10th year at the Chamber, and education and workforce development has been a continuous conversation over the past decade. Employers were demanding a more skilled workforce and kept asking what the Chamber could do. What our employers realized is that the skills gap issue is not something you can tackle on your own, and as much as we tried pushing the needle on our end, we too realized that we just couldn’t do it alone. We were fortunate that the last couple of years everyone got to the same point and came to the table. Six months ago we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Aurora, the community college, and four local school districts. With that MOU, we now have an official partnership and each entity can now hold each other accountable.

 Q: You were awarded ACCE’s Lumina Education Attainment Award to support your chamber’s involvement in the Pathways to Prosperity program. Can you tell me about the program’s origins and your chamber’s specific role in its implementation?

A: Around the same time our initial education-focused conversations started, the West Aurora School District was interested in Pathways to Prosperity, a nationwide project of 10 states created by Harvard University and Jobs for the Future. We joined them at the start to provide insight into the skills needs of area employers. We did an asset map, and through that process we identified three industries to address through the pathways program: IT, health sciences, and advanced manufacturing. We went from being a partner at the table, assisting in the development of the asset map, to taking on a leadership role. Today, we are coordinating some of the pathway deliverables and processes while also ensuring all partners are focused on the same mission.

Pathways to Prosperity focuses on creating pathways of career exploration, awareness and development for students in grades 9-14. The goal is to link high schools, community colleges and employers to increase the number of youth who complete high school and attain a postsecondary credential with labor market value. For example, if students are interested in the IT sector, we have designed a curriculum that exposes them to the different careers they can have within that sector, and the education path and certifications needed to get those careers. Once they graduate high school they may have earned dual credit with the local community college, industry certifications, and/or stackable credentials. The stackable credential piece is key and will allow students to build upon a certification received in school. We just had our very first student in the IT Pathway pass the Microsoft Certification Exam, which was our first win within that specific certification process.  Another example of success is that students within our Health Sciences Pathway graduate prepped for CNA Certification. After graduation, they can build on that to earn a RN Certification. Essentially, we are designing these pathways and credentials in a way that teaches students to understand the value of adding education and certifications to their portfolio after graduation.

Q: Tell me about your chamber's overall education/workforce development portfolio.

A: Our whole portfolio of work is really about a collaborative effort. We have a long history of working with many community partners - including our educational institutions, our workforce investment board and Pathways to Prosperity partners to name a few.

In some cases, our work involves advocacy. For example, we recently used the legislative process for approval of a STEM Academy for grades 3-8. We had to get new legislation passed for the academy because there was nothing currently on the books in Springfield to support it. The STEM Academy is in partnership with our local university and is offered to three partner school districts in our area. The STEM Academy sits on the university campus, which is unique because students are exposed to the college-campus experience, and the Academy’s educators are able to get a graduate level education. Academy faculty come from the three partner schools, and while they are teaching at the STEM Academy, they are able to take courses in specific subject areas. Once they have completed their teaching assignment, they go back to their home school district and become leaders in schools in helping develop curriculum and professional development supports for faculty. It is a very unique program, and there are a number of businesses involved in creating that STEM curriculum.

 We also partner with our local Workforce Investment Board to implement an advanced manufacturing internship program.  We worked with a number of our manufacturers to provide hands-on experience and class time to students so they get a better understanding of what manufacturing is – including everything from global manufacturing facilities to small, local shops. Part of that classroom component requires students to complete OSHA training and receive their OSHA certification through that process. This gives them one certification to add to their portfolio, which is the whole idea behind all of this. We are encouraging stackable credentials and certifications for students to build upon.

Q: How are your education and workforce development initiatives funded?

A: We are fortunate to be a recipient of ACCE’s Lumina Education Attainment Award, which has significantly helped us support our partnerships and corresponding efforts. Currently, the entities sitting at the leadership table are contributing to the success of our work. The City of Aurora has provided funding towards our education attainment programs. The school districts are providing in-kind resources, such as senior leadership staff time and expertise and professional development opportunities for their educators.

We also currently have support from employers with curriculum development and internships, but we’re taking steps be able to go to them for financial support by getting the pieces together to show the successes of our programs.

Q: This is obviously a large investment in terms of resources and staff capacity. How do you make it work from an organizational standpoint?

A: In terms of capacity, we are very limited in our staff resources, with two full-time and two part-time staff members. The two part-time staff members are very specific to operations, and the two full-time staff include a membership director and myself. So it is a bit of a juggle. This is a passion of mine, continuing education and workforce development, so it’s really one of those responsibilities that I have happily added. We are also fortunate to have a consultant who is helping us with some of the research agenda and follow-up from meetings, etc. It is a huge time commitment, but in my opinion, it will pay off in the future. Sometimes, work is even accomplished through our volunteers. We’ve got a great set of business leaders who are really involved in either developing curriculum or providing internships. Once we start seeing more outcomes, we can explore a couple different options, including adding a workforce development position to the team here, or it might be appropriate to create a foundation and house that staff within it.

Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?

A: We hear it a lot, but success doesn’t happen overnight. I hate to be cliché driven, but once you fall, you’ve got to get back up. This has been something I have been working toward for 10 years now, and sometimes, you just have to have everything in alignment to be successful.

We are fortunate to have a great collaborative relationship with the city, the community college and our local school districts. You have got to rely on that collaborative piece, especially when you are a chamber with limited staff capacity. There is nothing that we do that is 100% driven by the chamber, whether its programs, events, or advocacy.                           

The key strength that a chamber brings is that we are the conduit for the business community and education. Sometimes you have to build that trust. Traditionally, business and education have not been the best of partners – there are often philosophical differences– and I think at times you just have to listen to what the needs are from both sides of the table.

Also, celebrate the small steps. Like I said before, we had one student pass the Microsoft Certification Exam – which is a small step for us, but we are very excited. Another small win is that we will begin next school year with three pathways in each of our seven participating high schools. Based on registrations for that academic year, we have realized a 25 percent increase in enrollments in Pathways-specific courses. Long-term goals such as moving that graduation needle may take 12 years to see a significant change, and nobody is going to wait around that long! Celebrate those small steps because that is how you win the race.

 

Tags: Economic Development, education, Goal 2025, higher education, Lumina, postsecondary, Workforce Development

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Upstate N.Y.ís New Advocate for Regional Business

Tania Kohut on Friday, May 1, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 

The memberships of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber and the Chamber of Schenectady County have voted to integrate into one umbrella organization: the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce. According to an article in Albany Business Review, the move forms "the largest chamber in the Albany, New York region" that will serve regional business interests and provide broad-based member services. Both chambers will exist as affiliate members of the Capital Region Chamber. They will operate with their own identities and boards, and continue to present locally-focused programs and provide issue advocacy at the local level.

 
Integration of the two chambers will occur over the coming months. The Capital Region Chamber will have nearly 3,000 members, representing more than 140,000 employees. Mark Eagan, president and CEO of the Albany-Colonie chamber, will be CEO; Chuck Steiner, president and CEO of the Schenectady chamber will serve as president.
 

 

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