That’s where state, regional, and city economic development programs can prove crucial, helping businesses fulfill their needs for highly trained labor pools, either through augmented education on the front end or cooperating with locating and expanding businesses and their specialized workforce needs on the back end.
Consider the role that state and local prime workforce programs have played in helping regions advance in the increasingly crucial biotech industry. Practically every jurisdiction across the country has been actively attempting to build biotech “hotspots” or “corridors” for a decade now, and the emergent winners are focusing on helping biotech startups attract, develop, and retain the technical and scientific talent that is crucial for their success.
Illinois, for example, reimburses employers up to 50 percent of the costs of training graduate-student employees under its biotech training-assistance program. Missouri has spent $9 million in grants to establish “innovation campuses” where high-school students get extensive training in science and technology fields through apprenticeships with local employers while they also earn college credit.
And, in North Carolina, the legislature has cleverly leveraged the state’s tobacco-settlement payments into three separate trust funds, one of them a long-term economic development foundation that committed $60 million to create a statewide training program for bio-manufacturing workers. A portion of this grant, along with $4.5 million from the North Carolina Biosciences Organization, provided North Carolina State University in Raleigh with $36 million to train workers for the Research Triangle’s now-burgeoning life-sciences sector.
Vibrant performance in this criterion stands out for some MSAs, where they rank much more highly for worker readiness in the Area Development list for 2014 than in other categories. Tallahassee, Fla., for instance, ranks only No. 108 in the overall list this year — but No. 6 in the “Prime Workforce” criterion. One key for Florida’s capital is that economic development officials effectively harness the wide variety of the city’s higher-education network, not just the prominent Florida State University.
So, for example, Tallahassee Community College has taken a leadership role with the opening of its Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, a 16,000-square-foot facility geared toward high-tech and precision-manufacturing training; and the Ghazvini Center for Healthcare Education, an 85,000-square-foot facility that houses programs in diagnostic medical sonography, emergency medical services, nursing, radiologic technology, and respiratory care.
Even places with generally not as helpful reputations can score big economic development successes with the right type of assistance to help companies create prime workforces. Connecticut, for instance, began a Small Business Express Program in 2012 that offered companies help with developing employee skills as a centerpiece of a menu of lures. More than 1,000 Connecticut companies benefited through early 2014, creating and retaining about 14,000 jobs, the state said.