For companies trying to evaluate the need for proximity to any given educational system, a considerable amount of due diligence should be undertaken to fully understand the quality of the training programs being offered by the respective state and community. To be blunt, some programs look good on paper; however, upon further examination, the ability to execute and deliver is lacking. As a result, close proximity will be very important in these locations. In other states and communities, however, the ability to quickly perform a needs assessment and develop and deliver training programs is superb; in those cases, proximity is not such an important factor.
The fact is that both capability and quality varies significantly within and between states. Some are outstanding and others are simply poor. Because of this, companies are spending more time understanding where and how skills will be developed and sustained over time. In response to this, many communities that may not have a technical university main campus are developing university extensions tied in with science parks, with a focus on integrating industry and learning at the local level.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the cost of energy has played in important role in shaping clients' perspectives about what constitutes being "close." With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, closer is better, particularly where a high level of interaction and collaboration is required. How long this perception will last is unknown; however, it is a factor that should not be casually dismissed.
In sum, the shortage of skilled workers in the United States is a pressing problem for manufacturers, and a renewed interest in developing the infrastructure and programs to respond to industry needs through training is crucial. Those locations that understand and act will be the better for it.