On a Personal Note: C2ER/LMI Conference Reflections
The nation’s premier community & economic research organization, C2ER Council for Community and Economic Research, joined forces with a leading labor & work force analytics firm, LMI Labor Market Information, to host an analytics-oriented conference in Atlanta June 4-8 for economic development managers, analysts and researchers. Many of the presentations and workshops were dedicated to the latest research and technology to support states and communities in their planning and economic development efforts, but a number of private companies like UPS and Home Depot attended as well. After all – Information is Power.
Participants were also treated to an enthusiastic and generally optimistic Economic Outlook presentation by Dr. Roger Tutterow from Kennesaw State University (Atlanta). With nine years of economic expansion and further signals of continued growth in the U.S., many of our international clients ask why Americans only get two-week vacations each year when most developed countries offer six-week vacations. Why can’t a wealthy country like the USA afford to offer its citizens health care when other western nations do so?
As I mentioned on the stage of the Site Selection Panel on which I was honored to serve with professionals like Carol Henderson of Cushman Wakefield, Kate McEnroe of McEnroe Associates and Ron Starner of Conway Inc., in working with FDI Foreign Direct Investment clients, Navigator Consulting is often supporting executives who have a very different view of the world than we do as Americans. For Europeans in particular, there is a cautious measure of the gains from economic growth and the potential impact on quality of life.
Jennifer Zeller, Director of Research at Georgia Power Economic Development, moderated the panel’s discussion with a focus on the challenges of work force, labor markets and how communities could measure and present this information and data effectively to consultants in RFI’s and RFP’s. While there are many software tools and resources available to indicate skills sets, education levels, commute times and so forth, and every site selection consultant agreed that no field in their RFI’s should be left empty, everyone agreed that the real challenge of work force was creating the human pipeline, ensuring the training quality and the reliability that good jobs would be available. No one had the secret formula for that.
Risking the ire of the assembled economic development audience, I ventured to speak to the unique expectations of our international executives who arrive in the U.S. with their own misunderstandings of American education and training. German, Korean, French, Japanese or Italian. Each nationality has their own tradition of education and work force integration. More often than not there is a cultural gap that is difficult to surmount. The international executives believe that they have the solution to work force training for the Americans, while the Americans somehow find it difficult to change 200 years of educational structure and tradition, and “turn on a dime” for the sake of a company that might not even locate in the community.
In these cases the consultant should be the “go-between” to help manage expectations on both sides. We encourage EDO’s to be patient and understand where these executives are coming from, and why their expectations for work force excellence might be so high. American training programs will simply be “different” and not comparable to whatever these managers are used to in their native countries.
A “take-away” for me from the C2ER/LMI Conference was the value that the participants bring to one another through their side bar discussions and benchmarking efforts. With a topic as complex as Labor Markets and Work Force, there is always something new to learn.
Author: James Blair, Managing Director, Navigator Consulting