Developing Career Pathways

by Ian Flatt 1. October 2015 08:39

Developing career pathways for both the overall population and targeted populations (such as veterans, people with disabilities, and formerly incarcerated individuals) has been identified as a major priority under the new WIOA legislation that now governs federal workforce development programs. But how many of us can confidently define career pathways, let alone develop strategies to create and implement them across multiple sectors in our communities? Luckily for us, the US Department of Labor (DOL) released an updated version of its Career Pathways Toolkit (complete with lovely and concise infographics) in August 2015. The toolkit spends 150 defining career pathways, outlining the essential components of a successful career pathways strategies, and identifying resources and case studies that can further support the development of local career pathways.


According to the DOL, a career pathway is a series of connected education and training strategies and supportive services that enable individuals to secure industry-relevant certification and obtain employment within an occupational area to advance to higher levels of future education and employment. Career pathways should have multiple “entry and exit ramps”—i.e. they should offer the ability for workers to enter career pathways at different points (e.g. entry level, mid-level) and either exit to pursue educational opportunities that will advance their careers or to pursue educational opportunities while working. The career pathways system under WIOA specifically advocates for work-based learning opportunities, such as on-the-job training and registered apprenticeships, as part of the career pathways system. At a general level, a career pathway could look like this, from the Center for Law and Policy’s Shared Vision, Strong System report:


The goals of a career pathways system are many and diverse. Primarily, the career pathways system is designed to upskill American workers to ensure that they have the skills and competencies required by employers. Career pathways are generally a cornerstone of a broader industry sector-focused strategy (also required by WIOA). More specifically, the goals of a career pathways system are as follows:

  • Increase number of adults in US who gain industry-recognized and academic credentials necessary to work in jobs that are in demand

  • Make it easier to earn industry-recognized credentials

  • Provide opportunities for more flexible education and training

  • Attain market-identifiable skills that can transfer into work

  • Develop programs that meet the needs of working learners and non-traditional workers

The DOL has identified 6 essential elements to developing a career ladder system, each accompanied by several “key components,” or actions, required to achieve the element, as summarized below.


If your organization or stakeholders in your region are planning to develop career pathways strategies, I would highly recommend reviewing the full US DOL Career Pathways toolkit for additional detail about the elements and key components, case studies of successful strategies, and various resources. The report can be downloaded here.


Elements of Developing a Career Pathways System


Element 1: Build cross-agency partnerships and clarify roles

A cross-agency leadership team clarifies the roles and responsibilities of each partner and gains high level support from political leaders for an integrated career pathways system.


Key Element Components:

  • Engage cross-agency partners and employers

  • Establish a shared vision, mission, and set of goals

  • Define the roles and responsibilities of all partners

  • Develop a work plan and/or Memorandum of Understanding for partnership

Element 2: Identify industry sectors and engage employers

Sectors and industries are selected and are partners and co-investors in the development of career pathways systems.


Key Element Components:

  • Conduct labor market analysis to target high demand and growing industries

  • Survey and engage key industry leaders from targeted industries and sector partnerships

  • Clarify the role of employers in the development and operation of programs

  • Identify existing training systems within industry as well as the natural progression and/or mobility (career ladders/lattices)

  • Identify the skill competencies and associated training needs

  • Sustain and expand business partnerships

Element 3: Design education and training programs

Career pathways programs provide a clear sequence of education courses and credentials that meet the skill needs of high-demand industries.


Key Element Components:

  • Identify and engage education and training partners

  • Identify target populations, entry points, and recruitment strategies

  • Review, develop, or modify competency models with employers and develop and validate career ladders/lattices

  • Develop or modify programs to ensure they meet industry recognized and/or postsecondary credentials

  • Analyze the state’s and region’s education and training resource and response capability

  • Research and promote work-based learning opportunities within business and industry

  • Develop integrated, accelerated, contextualized learning strategies

  • Provide flexible delivery methods

  • Provide career services, case management, and comprehensive supportive services

  • Provide employment assistance and retention services

Element 4: Identify funding needs and sources

Necessary resources are raised and/or leveraged to develop, operate, and sustain the career pathways system and programs.


Key Element Components:

  • Identify the costs associated with system and program development and operations

  • Identify sources of funding available from partner agencies and related public and private resources and secure funding

  • Develop long-term sustainability plan with state or local partners

Element 5: Align policies and programs

State and local policies and administrative reforms have been revised to align with implementation of a career pathways system.


Key Element Components:

  • Identify state and local policies necessary to implement career pathways systems

  • Identify and pursue needed reforms in state and local policy

  • Implement statutory and administrative procedures to facilitate cross-agency collaboration   

Element 6: Measure system change and performance

Appropriate measures and evaluation methods are in place to support continuous improvement of the career pathways system.


Key Element Components:

  • Define desired system, program, and participant outcomes

  • Identify the data needed to measure system, program, and participant outcomes

  • Implement a process to collect, store, track, share, and analyze data

  • Design and implement a plan for reporting system and program outcomes

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Featured Indicator: Thinking in Clusters

by Bryant Dixon 30. September 2015 15:56

From Detroit’s auto industry glory days, to Silicon Valley’s pioneering high-tech future, industry clusters—past, present, and future—serve as catalysts for economic growth in the U.S. economy.


As defined by the University of Minnesota, an industry cluster is a “geographic concentration of competing, complementary, or interdependent firms and industries that do business with each other and/or have common needs for talent, technology, and infrastructure.”1 Ultimately they are defined by three main characteristics: geography, value creation, and business environment. And while these three characteristics generally occur naturally, their interrelationship between both the characteristics and businesses can be promoted through a mix of networking, collaboration, and competition.


In recent years, local and state policymakers and economic development practitioners began to promote and manufacture these relationships by using a new economic development approach to develop “cluster strategies,” which allow regions to develop specific strategies for different clusters, build on unique strengths of their region, and engage with cluster members to shape their economic future.


Clusters in New York State

The table below shows the breakdown of the New York State’s 16 defined industry clusters, which includes number of jobs, total and average wages, and regional exports (foreign or domestic).


Source: Employment in New York State: August 2014


The 16 industry clusters accounted for more than 2.8 million jobs and more than $277 billion in wages, which is about one in three jobs and more than 50% of all wages paid in the state of New York.2 Because of their competitive business environment and skilled workforce, clusters typically offer jobs with higher salaries. The average salary for New York State industry cluster employees is $97,500, which is higher than the state’s private sector average of $84,542.3 The statewide industry clusters generated more than $562 billion in combined exports.


Statewide Clusters Supplying the Most Jobs:

1. Front Office & Producer Services (623,100 jobs)

2. Financial Services (554,100 jobs)

3. Travel & Tourism (391,500 jobs)


Statewide Clusters Offering the Highest Average Wage:

1. Financial Services ($180,700)

2. Information Technology Services ($112,700)

3. Front Office & Producer Services ($108,000)


Statewide Clusters with Most Annual Regional Exports:

1. Financial Services ($213.7 billion)

2. Front Office & Producer Services ($67.8 billion)

3. Comm, Software & Media Services ($58.0 billion)


Front Office and Producer Services, which included sub-clusters such as business services and headquarters, has the most employment of any cluster with more than 620,000 jobs and the Financial Services cluster comes in second with 554,100 jobs. Both clusters are also in the top three clusters with the highest average wage. Financial Services comes in first this time with an average wage of $180,700 and Information Technology Services ($112,000) and Front Office & Producer Services ($108,000) come in second and third. One reason for the Financial Services cluster’s high average wage is its sub-clusters in securities and investments ($185,300 average wage) and banking and credit ($160,000), which also helps explain its over $100 billion in total annual wages paid. 4 Financial Services also topped the list with $213 billion in annual regional exports, which is far more than any other industry cluster.


Why does cluster thinking matter?

Cluster thinking matters because it orients economic development policy and practice toward groups of firms and away from individual firms. Industry clusters are important because they help us to better understand our state and regional economies. The cluster framework is particularly useful for studying important inter-industry linkages in our state and regional economies. Areas with strong clusters produce more economic growth, more jobs, stronger wage growth, increased entrepreneurial activity, and more intellectual property, such as patents.5

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Now What? How to Work with your Newly-Hired Economic Development Strategic Plan Consultant

by Michael N'dolo 30. September 2015 14:53

In a recent issue of the Economic Development Navigator, we covered the basics of How to Run a Successful RFP Process for a Strategic Economic Development Plan. The article proved popular (who would have guessed?) and was picked up and rerun by a number of outlets, including a few local government associations.


But, hiring the consultant is really just the first step of the process. Even the best consultant in the world needs your help to make the Strategic Plan a success. In an effort to harness the wisdom of the crowds, I circulated this theme to a number of current and former consultants who were kind enough to contribute their top hints and “must-do’s” to the list. (Please see the contributor list, below).


Communicating with Your Consultant

Our top suggestion is to have a conference call every week with your consultant’s point person to check in, share news, troubleshoot issues and learn what has transpired over the course of the week. This regular interaction helps immensely to keep things on track and helps identify obstacles. Do not delegate this to an administrative person as a lot of content gets shared and we need access to you and other decision-makers. During these calls, be sure to provide feedback early and often on work products, stakeholder feedback and overall process. Remember that consultants, by and large, really do want to do a good job, and critical and constructive feedback is essential!


Bonus points: Send news articles on a weekly basis to your consultant on the various economic development-related activities happening in the area.

The Sausage Making

Consultants should have direct, unfiltered access to decision-makers at each step of the process so they can "own" the plan and will not act against the plan at the end of the process. This specifically involves giving them advanced notice of the major recommendations and vetting them against political feasibility. Giving your consultant direct access to your bosses can feel very dangerous (to your blood pressure and career!), but there is no way around it for a solid, defensible, implementable plan. In fact, you should insist on several closed-door meetings (without you!) between your consultant and your chief elected official(s).


Bonus points: Try not to be defensive about findings. All may not be well in your community, but you asked for an expert, outside opinion and sometimes acknowledging challenges is the first step to change.


Stakeholder Engagement

Consultants are almost by definition outsiders and do not know your people as well as you do. It is often best if you do some of the community outreach with the consultant, including attending face-to-face interviews, focus groups and community meetings. Give your consultant a heads up ahead of time and guide his/her time well: do not send the consultant out on their own to gather input from people who are either (1) unlikely to provide much valuable input or implementation assistance, or (2) outright hostile and uncooperative (this is not the same as “principled opponents,” whom we must absolutely engage and want to engage.) Rather, focus your consultant’s time on decision-makers, key influencers and groups who might actually accomplish objectives under the plan.


Involve your staff in the community and business engagement process as co-creators of new possibilities. They know more than most people about the issues you are tackling and will have to be involved in implementation. Also, do not get too hung up on data analysis—it is just one piece of the puzzle. The more important thing to spend your time and energy on is getting the right people in the room for brainstorming and input sessions.


Finally, consider all parties involved when scheduling meetings: holidays, winter weather, short notices, etc. can impact participation by consultants and others.


Bonus points: Carefully review all documents that will become public. Consultants are human, and minor factual errors can be embarrassing. We try to catch everything we can, but do not make it to 100%, especially on short deadlines.


The Final Plan

The old stereotype is that strategic plans are thick, densely packed with text, quickly ignored or even scorned and gather dust on a shelf. Do not let this befall you! Here are the top hints to avoid this tragedy:

  • Think of your plan not as a plan but as a “sell sheet” to your officials. So, it is okay for your plan to be short. More people will read it if it is short!

  • Draw attention to implementation wherever possible in the document and highlight outcomes—what do you get if you implement the plan?

  • It is also okay not to have a hundred goals and objectives. The best plans help you clearly identify the top 3 or 4 things you need to do first. Headline those key objectives in the executive summary.

  • Paper copies are a thing of the past to a large extent. Final products should be disseminated electronically, preferably through multiple channels.

If you must, you can have the “kitchen sink” list in the body of your plan as long as you prioritize the actions and acknowledge that only a portion of those items will be completed.


Understand that there is a difference between what the consultant provides you and what you ultimately claim as the final plan. The point is that you want the consultant's professional opinion and the best product, but ultimately the plan is yours to implement. There is a point where the "hand-off" takes place and you claim ownership.


Bonus points: Consider an unconventional format for the final plan – perhaps a landscape orientation with a PowerPoint look to it, or maybe keep it to a two-page “sell sheet” with the implementation plan attached, or something other than a hundred-page bound tombstone.



The first step of implementation is to get your community's chief elected official and legislature to formally adopt the plan as their own and to put someone in charge of implementation. Ideally, that would be you! As painful as it may sound, part of that implementation responsibility should include the obligation to provide a status report to the elected officials at least once a year. That way, they are expecting a report and you are expecting to give a report and everyone’s attention is called back to the plan on a regular interval.


In addition to status reports, it would be ideal to get your community to agree to a regular schedule for updates to your plan. This can occur as frequently as every year, or you can stretch it out to every five years. It really should be a living document that changes as you make progress on your goals.


Bonus points: Help your consultant build a realistic, achievable "win" into the first 90 days of your implementation plan or, better yet, during the planning process itself. This can boost enthusiasm and spur momentum.


We Are Humans

A few last points of about working with your consultant, this time on a more personal note:


Don't be afraid to make suggestions about your favorite coffee, food, hotels in the area—travel is hard, but with a good night’s sleep and coffee to look forward to it can be slightly less difficult and we will be forever grateful. 


Consultants are human, motivated to do a good job, and as susceptible to flattery as the next guy. A little "honey" goes a long way and works better than "vinegar"—keep things positive as much as possible. Your stakeholders will mirror your own attitude towards the process.


The consultant does not have all the answers. They will only produce a plan that's as good as the input they get.


Many thanks to all those who contributed to this article:

  • Rachel Selsky, current employee-on-maternity-leave and prolific contributor

  • Carmen Lorentz, former employee, now Director of Economic Development for New Hampshire

  • Jason Bernard, Director of Emerging Partnerships, Fourth Economy

  • John Findlay, Principal, Maverick and Boutique

  • Jon Roberts, Principal, TIP Strategies

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Take a Shot at Supporting the Distilling Industry

by Rachel Selsky 30. September 2015 14:38

The following article appears in the September 2015 issue of Expansion Solutions magazine.

Following in the wake of the growing popularity of the craft wine and beer industries, spirits are the latest adult beverage to see increased interest by small, local producers looking to create unique products for a niche market. The surge in demand for locally produced alcohol aligns with the recent increase in demand for artisanal goods, the local foods movements, and the growing interest of consumers’ in where and how their food and drinks are made.


The recent uptick in the number of craft distilleries in the United States has created unique opportunities for communities and economic developers looking to support this industry. The increase in distilling also impacts other regional economic engines, such as the agriculture, bottling, transportation, and hospitality industries, among others. The following article outlines the history of the distilling industry, including recent trends, two case studies, workforce considerations, and some information for economic developers looking to help encourage economic activity related to distilling.


History of Distilling Industry

Following the period of prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933, the distilling industry has been dominated by a small number of large companies. Recently, the industry has become even more consolidated as most of the big global liquor brands have been absorbed by four major distillers – Diageo, Pernod, Suntory, and Brown-Forman.1 These global companies represent many of the most common brands in the liquor industry, including Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Smirnoff and Tanqueray. However growing interest in locally sourced, artisanal products among consumers has created an opportunity for distillers to produce small batch, premium spirits that feature unique and local ingredients.


This shift in consumer preferences has led to the rapid increase in the number of craft distilleries in the United States, growing from 24 in 2000 to 580 in 2014. This growth has led to an increase in economic activity including new jobs and wages in the industry. Since 2011, the number of employees in the distilling industry has grown by nearly 37 percent, from 6,931 in 2011 to 9,479 in 2014.


So what can communities do to encourage the growth of the distilling industry? The following are two case studies demonstrating how states are developing programs and improving regulations to support the distilling industry while also benefitting other support industries such as agriculture in New York State and tourism in Kentucky.


New York State

New York State (NYS) has recognized the potential economic benefit of supporting craft wineries, breweries, and distilleries and has worked to develop legislation to support these industries and remove regulations and restrictions that can be barriers to growth. In 2007, the state created the Farm Distillery license, which was modeled on the earlier Farm Winery license. Since then, the regulations for distilleries and other craft beverage manufacturers have been updated under the 2014 Craft Act to further eliminate barriers to growth in the industry.


The goal of the Farm Distillery license and subsequent legislation was not only to make operating a distillery more viable but also to enhance the economic benefits of craft distilleries for support industries in New York, particularly the agricultural industry. For the distilling industry, this means that in order to be considered a New York State Farm Distiller, at least 75 percent of the product’s inputs must be grown in NYS.2 To entice distillers to select a “Farm License” over other types of liquor production licenses available in the state, New York offers the license at a discounted rate. The license also allows distillers to offer product samples and cocktails for consumption onsite and to conduct tastings at farmers markets and other events, enabling distillers to increase their marketing efforts and diversity their revenues.3 These privileges are not available to distillers operating under other types of New York State distilling licenses. Since 2007, New York has issued 71 Farm Distillery licenses. 40 of those distillers are operating with several others in development. Combined, farm distillers in the state account for 200 direct jobs. By requiring Farm Distillers to purchase 75 percent of agricultural inputs from New York farms, the Farm Distillery license has also led to the purchasing of over 1,000 tons of New York State grain by distillers since 2007, supporting local farmers and contributing to the creation of more on-farm jobs.4 



With a history in distilling dating back to the 1700s, Kentucky continues to be responsible for aging approximately 95 percent of all the bourbon in the world and the vast majority of that is shipped outside of the state.5 Not only does Kentucky benefit from the jobs and tax revenue associated with the production of bourbon, which is reportedly responsible for 9,000 jobs and more than $125 million in tax revenue each year for the state, but also from the tourism that is generated by the Bourbon Trail. Since 1999 Kentucky has been building on its reputation for bourbon and has since attracted visitors from all 50 states and 25 different countries, with nearly 2.5 million visitors in the last five years.6


The tourism aspect is interesting as it can add a second layer to the benefits derived from the distilling industry. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail has been designed to encourage visitors to visit multiple distilleries throughout the state through the use of a “passport” promotion that keeps track of which distilleries have been visited and offers a t-shirt to those who complete the whole Trail. The Trail also provides a calendar of distilling-related events for visitors, transportation between distilleries, and other services that help support the industry and tourists. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail follows the same model as the wine trails that have been popular and successful in other parts of the country.



There have been a number of training programs and workshops established to support the development of the U.S. craft distilling industry. Previously people who were interested in education about the industry had to travel to the UK or Canada but more distillers and professional organizations are offering courses on the science of alcohol production, basics of craft distilling operations, and even some of the more advanced skills necessary. Some institutions that offer courses include Cornell University, Wisconsin’s Ethanol Technology Institute, Michigan State University, and Missouri State University. The craft distillers are also offering their own workshops and courses in distilling and other aspects of the industry.


Beyond managing and operating the business of distilling, some of the top occupations (by number of jobs in 2014) required for the distilling industry include (Source: EMSI):


Production Occupations

  • Motor Vehicle Operators

  • Material Moving Workers

  • Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations

  • Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing Occupations

  • Retail Sales Workers

  • Role of Economic Developers

Just as breweries have become a tool of many economic and community developers to spur development in downtown and industrial areas, distilleries have similar potential. Here are some ways that economic developers can encourage the growth of the distilling industry and the supply chain:


Capital investment assistance. Depending on the size and nature of the distillery there can be significant upfront costs in purchasing equipment and inputs. Economic development officials with access to financing tools can assist by offering funding to those going into the distilling industry with preference for those that are locating within targeted industrial neighborhoods.


Assist with understanding regulations. As with any alcohol related industry (and most other industries as well) there are particular regulations that guide development, sale, purchases, etc. that can be confusing and restrictive. Local officials can help the new and existing distilling business owners navigate this difficult terrain and find ways to be successful under current regulations while also working to lobby for changes to benefit the industry.


Provide incentives for local inputs. Work to encourage the use of local inputs so that the distilling industry benefits the larger economy such as local agriculture, glass/bottling manufacturers, shipping/transportation, etc. The multiplier effect will be larger and allow for more wealth to stay in the local economy.


Align regulations with industry growth. Ensuring that the regulations that govern the distilling industry are in line with support the industries is key to economic development. For example, allowing distilleries to have tours, gift shops, sampling, and also serve food/drink provides auxiliary revenue for the distillery throughout the year.



1 (Gelles, 2014)

2 (New York State Liquor Authority, 2014)

3 (Zavatto, 2014)

4 (Zavatto, 2014)

5 (Coomes, Ph.d & Kornstein, 2012)

6 (Kentucky Bourbon Trail History, 2015)



Coomes, Ph.d, P., & Kornstein, B. (2012). “The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Distilling Industry in Kentucky.” Retrieved from


Felten, E. (2014, July 28). “Your 'Craft' Rye Whiskey is Probably From a Factory Distillery in Indiana.” The Daily Beast. Retrieved from


Gelles, D. (2014, January 13). “After Beam Deal, Few Big Liquor Mergers Left.” The New York Times. Retrieved from


Kentucky Bourbon Trail History. (2015). Retrieved from Kentucky Bourbon Trail:


New York State Liquor Authority. (2014). “Comparison of Distillery and Farm Distillery Licenses.” Retrieved from


Zavatto, A. (2014, March 4). “How New York Legislation Helped Put Local Liquor in Your Cabinet.” Retrieved from Edible Manhattan:


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Connecticut Overhauls Tax-Increment-Financing (TIF): New Legislation Opens the Door to more TIF Projects

by Dan Stevens 30. September 2015 14:14

Effective in October is new legislation in Connecticut that will make TIF the powerhouse economic development tool it was always meant to be. For those unfamiliar, tax increment financing (TIF) is a public financing method that is used to incentivize and catalyze development, infrastructure, and other projects. Essentially, it allocates the future property tax revenues from a project or project area—that are above and beyond what would have been generated without project—to costs associated with the project. In other words, the property tax benefits from the project are used to help finance the project. The new legislation, An Act Establishing Tax Increment Financing Districts, P.A. 15-57 now allows Connecticut communities to use TIF the way it should be used.


Connecticut has technically had this option on the books, but it was so limited and burdensome that few projects ever used it. The complex procedural requirements were not only convoluted, but also opened up projects to rejection at various stages. The process of setting up a TIF also largely played out at the state level including numerous players such as the Connecticut Innovations Board, the State Bond Commission, and Joint Standing Committees. The new legislation allows individual municipal legislative bodies to establish their own tax increment districts in accordance with the new requirements.


Another one of the critical problems with the previous TIF legislation was that it allowed the incremental tax revenue only from a specific project. The more effective approach, and what is allowed under the new legislation, is to permit municipalities to form TIF Districts that include both the project itself and other properties that will experience property value increases as a result of the project. The benefit, as indicated by a Yale study on the matter, is that “the existence of a TIF District can make the bonds more attractive to investors, since there is a wider source of potential revenue to be accumulated to help finance the bond.”1

Other highlights of the legislation include allowing municipalities to issue general obligation bonds (versus revenue bonds). The new law also defines a broad set of uses of TIF revenues including (but not limited to) capital, financing, property assembly, professional services, maintenance and operations, and other costs. Funding can also be used to make improvements outside of the district if they are related to the project such as road and infrastructure projects.


The new legislation also authorizes municipalities to levy “benefit assessments” that are an additional assessment on properties within the district, which allows the municipality to finance construction, improvements, repairs, and rehabilitations within the district. Also of note is the provision in the legislation that allows funding to flow to economic development, environmental improvements, and employment training associated with the district. This means that TIF revenues can be used to fund things including economic development programs, economic development revolving loan funds, investment funds, services and equipment necessary for employment training, and specific uses associated with the district. One benefit of this, for example, is that a workforce development program could be created and funded to train workers needed by new businesses at a major development project.


While the overall process has been drastically streamlined, there are still some hurdles to be aware of. TIF districts must include property that is either (1) blighted; (2) in need of rehabilitation or conservation; or (3) suitable for certain types of development, including downtown or transit-oriented development. The legislation also requires the municipal legislative body to adopt a master plan for the TIF district that includes a financial plan detailing the schedule of incremental tax revenues and the anticipated costs of improvements and developments among other financial aspects. Other requirements include approval by the municipality’s planning commission, a public hearing, and a determination that the district will improve the economy or wellbeing of the community.


Public-private partnerships are the model for economic development in today’s economy. The new TIF legislation enables communities to better engage the private sector to implement projects by offering an effective “new” funding mechanism. Local officials and economic developers can now use TIF the way it has been used successfully in other places around the country.



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Novel "Strategic Doing" Shared Interest Approach to Economic Development

by Michael N'dolo 4. September 2015 14:36

At this year's NEDA annual conference in Syracuse NY, Barbara George-Johnson will tell the story of how 19 north-central New Jersey cities and municipalities tackled the problems of economic and community development based on common issues, rather than the normal geographic limits of counties, cities and towns. Barbara is the Executive Director of the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy, which provides support services to the New Jersey Urban Mayors’ Association and has acted as liaison between the various communities for a number of years.


Her co-presenters will be Michael N'Dolo, Vice President of Camoin Associates, and John Findlay, Vice President of Maverick & Boutique, who used a process of "strategic doing" to help the cities and municipalities set up community implementation teams to start work on 15 infrastructure, workforce/education, community development, and marketing projects across the regions at the same time as preparing their Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic Plan.

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Social Media Resources to Make Your Digital Marketing Easier

by Christa Franzi 2. September 2015 13:58

Last year at the Northeastern Economic Developers Association conference, Anthony Capece of the Albany Central District Management Association and I gave a session on Using Technology Tools for Dummies (i.e. business and economic development professionals).


We flooded the room with multiple screens showing the live stream of the conference hashtags, interactive polling, and mini-videos. Participants were encouraged to get out their devices out and “play” along with us, allowing them to interact and share outside the walls of the conference. In between movies and demos of cool tools, Anthony talked about emerging cloud-based applications, and I covered digital marketing strategy for EDOs.


Despite the technology overload, the NEDA conference committee asked us to come back and give an encore presentation for their upcoming 2015 conference in Syracuse, NY. It’s pretty amazing how much has changed in the world of social media marketing in just one year and we have lots of new things to share. While perfecting my 2015 list of tips and tricks, I’ve stumbled across some really great resources worth bookmarking for a rainy day:

This year’s NEDA conference is going to be a blast. There is still time to register and join in on the fun!

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What’s Driving the Northeast Economy?

by Alyson Slack 2. September 2015 13:37

Alyson Slack & Alex Tranmer


As we approach the Northeastern Economic Developers Association annual conference, Camoin Associates decided to take a broad look at the regional economy served by that organization.


Specifically, we wanted to know which industry sectors had produced the most new jobs over the past decade. At the three-digit NAICS level, that list was topped by Ambulatory Health Care Services; Food Services and Drinking Places; Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Social Assistance; and Educational Services. This reflects the ongoing shift of the American economy further toward a true service economy.1


On a more granular level, some of the industries driving the most growth in those sectors include home health care, full service restaurants, computer systems design, services for the elderly and the disabled, and higher education. We investigated what types of occupations those industries tend to employ in the greatest numbers. Food preparation and food service occupations are by far employing the most individuals within these sectors in the Northeast, but higher-skilled, knowledge-based occupations are featured prominently as well, especially, healthcare practitioners and healthcare technical and support occupations; and education, training, and library occupations.


If you live and work in the Northeast, you might recognize this picture as a reflection of your local or regional economy. What can you do to steer your community towards success in this increasingly service-based and knowledge-based economy?


To develop a strategic approach, it’s important to research local conditions to understand how your area fits into, or differs from, the rest of the Northeast and national economies. A deeper dive and additional market research can uncover local supply chain opportunities around which to focus your business growth and retention tactics. It’s increasingly imperative to coordinate efforts to improve regional workforce pipelines with broader economic development activities. By actively engaging a wide set of stakeholders in the creation and implementation of economic development strategies, you can start to build internal buzz that forms the foundation of the best community marketing campaigns—the ones that are successful in attracting business, investment, and talent.


Click on the infographic to enlarge. 



[1] Although much of the economic development discussion focuses on the need to revitalize America’s manufacturing sector, it’s important to remember that advances in U.S. manufacturing productivity are not being accompanied by increases in manufacturing employment.

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Workforce Development: An Essential Collaboration for Economic Growth

by Rob Camoin 2. September 2015 13:32

By: Rob Camoin, Michael N’dolo, and Ian Flatt


The following article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Expansion Solutions magazine.


Economic developers from across the country hear the same chorus again and again from their major employers: “We are hiring and we can’t find the people we need!” Indeed, the lack of sufficient quantities of skilled workers is a real brake on economic growth that appears likely to worsen as skilled baby-boomers begin to retire in greater numbers. This workforce gap is particularly puzzling when juxtaposed with the number of unemployed and under-employed people seeking better wages.


In part, to deal with this human and economic problem, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law in 2014. WIOA is the replacement to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and is meant to better “match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.”  We believe that WIOA offers a real platform to allow economic developers to engage with their local Workforce Investment Boards in a new and more comprehensive way. Below we describe two case studies where just such a collaboration has yielded fruit in the form of a more integrated economic developer-workforce development system. We also provide recommendations for others wishing to build this economic-workforce bridge in their own communities.


But first, how does WIOA offer a new platform for economic developers? WIOA has a strong emphasis on training and an increased level of flexibility for local groups to tailor programs to suit local employer’s needs. In fact, in his State of the Union address that launched this effort, President Obama specifically stated that, “[WIOA] means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs.” This moves the arc of workforce development somewhat away from its “social services for the poor” history that is focused on the individual and into a newer, employer or demand-focused mission of educating people for specific jobs as shown in the graphic below.



Vice President Biden was named as the point person to spearhead the effort and he established a “Job-Driven Checklist” that embodies this shift, summarized as: (1) engaging employers, (2) offering work-based apprenticeships, (3) using data to inform program composition, (4) measuring outcomes, (5) identifying educational and career based pathways, and (6) coordinating various agencies that are involved in workforce development.  In this way, WIOA ties more closely to economic development than its predecessor, the WIA.


In practice, everyone is still attempting to figure out how to implement this transition. We have assisted two such communities in this transition planning effort, namely Saratoga County, NY and the Southeast PA Partnership for Regional Economic Performance (PREP), a six county alliance of economic and workforce leaders in the Philadelphia Metro Area.


Saratoga County, NY Case Study

In Saratoga County, NY, many of the workforce needs identified through the study are being addressed by one or more programs or organizations in the region. However, the impact of these programs can be limited by their funding, capacity, and marketing capabilities. Instead of developing a plan that created new initiatives or programs, the Saratoga County economic and workforce development partners (Saratoga Economic Development Corporation-SEDC and Saratoga-Warren-Washington Counties Workforce Investment Board - SWW WIB) decided to limit the number of new initiatives and focus instead on developing a plan that would support existing programs that are already addressing the region’s challenges. To do so, SEDC and the SWW WIB (“partners”) decided to choose a limited number of specific, high-value industry sectors to focus on.


Saratoga County was lucky to have just wrapped up a county-wide economic development strategy that named five industry sectors of interest in the County. However, the partners were most interested in concentrating on the highest-impact avenues for workforce development, which was defined as: (1) high growth/high replacement need, (2) relatively high wages, and (3) realistic education requirements. On this last point, the partners realized it was unlikely to influence the number of students graduating with advanced degrees (i.e. Master Degree and above) but could have a significant impact in the “middle skill” jobs requiring at least a high school diploma but less than a Bachelor’s Degree (see graphic below). Based on those criteria, the partners chose the following three major sectors to be the focus of the effort: advanced manufacturing, tourism & hospitality, and health & wellness.



True to the WIOA mandate, the next step was a series of 40 in-depth interviews. This included many employers, both private for-profit businesses as well as major institutions such as the regional hospital. We asked them what skills they needed, what their occupational-related demands were and what skill sets were specifically lacking (i.e. pipeline of labor). Also interviewed were “training providers” defined in the broadest possible way to include K-12 educators, colleges, community colleges and the regional BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) as well as other traditional workforce development providers. We asked them to explain their process for how they figured out the skill demands for regional employers, what they viewed as the opportunities to improve Saratoga’s workforce system, and the greatest obstacles to more effectively addressing Saratoga’s workforce challenges.


Essential Takeaways

Almost across the board, the #1 concern everyone is worried about is replacement jobs more so than filling new positions. In part, this is because sectors such as advanced manufacturing are quite unlikely to be opening up significant numbers of new jobs as they move further and further into capital-intensive production. But a much bigger contributor to this concern is the mere fact that troves of highly-skilled baby-boomers are set to retire in short order with little in the way of young skilled workers to backfill those positions. In one instance, an advanced manufacturer was expecting to lose 20 percent of their skilled labor over the next five years. Countywide, as shown in the bar chart below, around two-thirds of all employment opportunities in the coming years will come from replacement of workers and only about one-third from new jobs being created. This is even more pronounced when we focus on the three targeted sectors for the workforce development plan.



The second big take-away is that in Saratoga, like many communities across the country, the capacity of workforce personnel and economic developers to implement new initiatives is limited. So, to address the area’s workforce challenges without creating new burdens on partners, the workforce development system as a whole needed to better “connect-the-dots” between existing resources, job seekers, and employers. Specifically, there is little need for new programs because the programs in place can be refined and adapted to better effect. Interviewees pointed to the need to better promote programs and then, secondly, streamline the programs in place to get more potential workers through them.


Based on discussions with employers in the region, building awareness of the resources available to employers through the economic development and workforce systems was also identified as a priority. Recognizing the limited capacity of the partners to conduct more business outreach, the partners instead focused on developing mechanisms to better coordinate business outreach. SEDC and the SWW WIB agreed to cross-train their business outreach representatives on all relevant employer programs so that everyone engaged in outreach can “sell” programs to employers that best match their exact needs, regardless of whether they are housed at the agency represented. This training would also incorporate other business outreach partners, such as community colleges, chambers of commerce, and the state department of labor.


Philadelphia Metro Case Study

In response to a grant opportunity from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, a broad coalition of economic and workforce development organizations in the Philadelphia Metro area created a partnership to tackle issues of career awareness and employer-driven training, specifically for the manufacturing industry. Recognizing the value of this regional and cross-sector collaboration, the group elected to develop a framework and strategic plan for continued collaboration after the grant expired. The workforce and economic development system in the region was much more dispersed than Saratoga’s, given the much larger geography and population being served. The first step was to review the myriad workforce and economic development plans, determine how to tie them together and identify the commonalities of mission from across the spectrum of the agencies. Subsequently, the group engaged in two collaborative “partner forums,” focused on prioritizing the top challenges and opportunities in the region and on developing a vision for the partnership.


Instead of developing new systems and programs, the planning effort was focused on connecting the diverse group of partners more closely and developing strategies to address regional priorities while limiting the development of new capacity-intensive initiatives. In recognition of the importance of collaboration between economic development and workforce development, the planning effort included a total over 20 agencies, including workforce investment boards, economic development agencies, Small Business Development Centers, and the region’s manufacturing extension partnerships (MEPs).

Essential Take-Aways

All four major take-aways from Philadelphia revolved around cooperation between agencies. Identical to the Saratoga County findings, the agencies felt that cross-promotion marketing was an area of obvious improvement for the system. This again meant each organization educating their outreach staff in all the various programs available to assist employers so that they would be empowered to make appropriate referrals.


Likewise, all the parties agreed that economic development agencies had a key component to share with their workforce counterparts – namely, the deep network of business community leadership contacts that would allow for feedback about their needs into the workforce development system.


Another area of widespread agreement was the need to regularly share “best practices” across agencies. The group agreed to hold a mini-workgroup session several times per year to have face-to-face communication of these best practices.


Finally, similar to the Saratoga County plan, there appears to be general consensus on the need to coordinate on the marketing of existing programs. The participants noted that there are already many programs, some of which are operating below capacity coupled with a general lack of awareness in local population. Perhaps more importantly, there appeared to be a lack of awareness of even the existence of jobs “sitting behind” the programs – the kinds of well-paying jobs that would accrue to successful program participants. Therefore, the marketing had to not only focus on the workforce development programs but to raise awareness in the general population of the host of job opportunities that exist in middle-skill jobs with good wages.


Recommendations for Future Collaborations

For those who are considering undertaking a WIOA-inspired planning effort of the same type as above, the following are the “lessons learned” from our case studies on how to best move forward:

  • Begin by developing closer working relationships between economic development and workforce officials. Many organizations start by cross-pollenating their boards and becoming educated on the various programs each has to offer.

  • Work with both economic and workforce partners to identify the highest priority workforce challenges. Develop consensus among a range of partners to address those challenges as well as a workforce vision for the region.

  • Focus on only one to three relatively narrowly-defined sectors to start. More than this can dilute your effort and spread already burdened organizations to thin.

  • Support existing programs in region: chances are, someone is already addressing the need identified. Look first to scale up existing initiatives and only develop new initiatives when needed and financially feasible.

  • Develop the plan with an eye on implementation: what actions are reasonable for the partners to accomplish, given their existing capacity?

  • Include capacity building as part of the strategy to cover leadership, personnel and funding sustainability.

  • Finally, refer to the job driven checklist to make sure your plan is addressing one or more of its priorities.

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Tracking the Chinese economy, the Greek debt crisis, and the Fed’s decision on interest rates

by Rob Camoin 11. August 2015 14:25

I always find summer to be the busiest time of the year for me, so instead of trying to select a book I'm not likely to complete by Labor Day, I've decided to commit myself to reading The Wall Street Journal daily, which is probably twice more frequently than usual. This summer I'm going to focus on the events unfolding in the China and Greece economies, as well as the Federal Reserve's impending rate increase anticipated for the fall.

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About Camoin Associates

Camoin Associates is a professional service firm that utilizes its understanding of the public and private sector investment process to assist businesses and developers in capitalizing on funding, financing and tax programs established to encourage private investment. We also specialize in advising economic development organizations and municipalities in creating strategies, policies and programs that support investment and job creation.   [Click Here for More]