Ashtabula County: Build the Education Pipeline, Let’s Learn from New Mexico

From IEDC Journal

If You Build an Education Pipeline, the Employers Will Come

By Savannah Jermance, New Mexico Partnership

It’s been said that economic development is a team sport, requiring the cooperation and coordination of many groups to be successful. Often, this is reflected in multiple levels of jurisdiction involved in attracting new companies to your area: community, county, state, federal agencies, et cetera.

But in addition to this public-sector support, it’s also important to count your educational programs and institutions as powerful allies in winning projects.

How training made a difference

The NM Partnership was initially contacted by RSI in May 2015. The company was experiencing unprecedented growth, spurring the search for its next three expansion sites. After we provided some initial analysis and site options, the company’s chief financial officer, Jeff Stewart, and vice president of human resources, Margaux Kaynard, visited Albuquerque a few months later.

The NM Partnership worked with the regional economic development group, Albuquerque Economic Development, to create a captivating itinerary for the pair. They met with New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, and attended a meeting of the Albuquerque Game Developers Guild (hosted by Etsy founder and Albuquerque-based entrepreneur Jared Tarbell).

But one of the most impactful introductions was a tour by the RSI team of the STEMulus Center at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), which recently launched a Deep Dive Coding Boot Camp. The visitors got to see students learning and producing, and spoke with the STEMulus Center’s leadership at great length.

“Introducing RSI to the CNM STEMulus Center really impacted our decision to open in Albuquerque,” said Margaux Kaynard. “Seeing CNM’s commitment to the Deep Dive Coding Boot Camp program and the courses that the STEMulus Center teaches, their applicability to our work and the number of graduates, made a strong impact.”

The Deep Dive Coding Boot Camp, launched in August 2014, is a 10-week, full-time course that teaches the fundamentals of modern web development and coding to build successful websites, software, and apps. Eight cohorts have completed the program through CNM. During the meet-and-greet with RSI, CNM’s leadership described their understanding of the interdependence between employers and training programs. They noted that the program was started in alignment with the city of Albuquerque’s desire to retain and attract a high-tech workforce and the employers who would hire them. The city and CNM understand that employers aren’t going to come to a location before an adequate workforce exists; educational institutions must create the workforce of tomorrow in order to bring the employers of tomorrow.

Preparation pays off

In September of 2015, after multiple follow-up visits to Albuquerque from RSI’s executive team, the company announced the opening of its newest center in the downtown corridor. Welcomed by Governor Martinez, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Jon Barela, and Mayor Berry, RSI outlined its plan to hire 125 software developers and technologists in the coming year.

“The Albuquerque community has been very welcoming and helped answer our questions at every point in the process,” said RSI’s Kaynard, noting that the STEMulus program staff in particular have affirmed their commitment to RSI’s success. Kaynard also cited the value of access to the University of New Mexico’s computer science program, which closely aligns with RSI’s work. “The contacts we met there…were open and offered us a glimpse into what a partnership with the school would look like,” she said.

At the end of March 2016, RSI employed 19 in its Albuquerque facility. RSI has been particularly impressed with the number of former Albuquerque residents who moved away for a high-tech job – many of whom attended CNM or UNM – and who are now applying for positions that would allow them to move back.

Count them in

Educational programs and institutions are usually “counted in” as resources and partners for business retention and expansion, entrepreneurial encouragement, small business development and more – but they are not often perceived as partners in business attraction and recruitment.

As the world becomes more and more labor-constrained and nearly every employer complains that they can’t find the qualified workforce they need, economic development organizations should be very close allies with the educational programs in their area. It makes all the difference in building the clusters an area is hoping to encourage: After all, employers will locate where they can find a plentiful, qualified workforce already in the hopper.

These are the kinds of partnerships that can’t be quantified in Excel or entered into a site selection algorithm – the “other” factors that are recognizable only with a site visit. So if you’re looking to encourage a new industry, start with the educational institutions that can create the workforce. Build it, and the employers will come.

Savannah Jermance is business development director for the New Mexico Partnership and a member of IEDC’s Higher Education Advisory Committee.

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