MadREP & ULGM Summit looks at creating jobs, expanding diversity
Excerpted from Wisconsin State Journal
By Judy Newman
A unified effort to boost the economy of the eight-county Madison region is starting to make headway, but there’s still a long way to go to diversify the workforce, speakers told a conference on Friday.
The first Madison Region’s Economic Development, Diversity and Leadership Summit — a combined effort of the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) and the Urban League of Greater Madison — drew about 400 people to Monona Terrace for the daylong event.
In his State of the Region report, MadREP president Paul Jadin said an email blitz and a series of meetings with site selectors — consultants who help companies choose locations for new and expanding businesses — have resulted in 26 inquiries about potential sites in the past year, “a significant increase over years prior.”
A dozen site selectors have been invited to tour the region in October “and watch the Badgers destroy Illinois,” Jadin said of the football matchup. “We need to do everything in our power to avoid being eliminated” from business siting opportunities, he said.
One of the biggest projects MadREP has worked on in the past year has been to apply for a federal program designed to accelerate manufacturing jobs. Called the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, 12 regions across the U.S. will be chosen for extra access to federal resources.
MadREP chose the agriculture, food and beverage sector and submitted a 45-page application in April pitching the 13 counties in south-central and southwest Wisconsin for their history in the dairy industry and their strength in organic farming and in producing local and sustainable foods.
The federal designation could help with as many as 42 projects, ranging from establishing a Madison Public Market to installing biodigesters for small farmers to improving rail facilities, the application says. Total cost of the projects: $217.6 million, with the potential of creating more than 1,800 jobs.
MadREP covers Dane, Rock, Green, Iowa, Sauk, Columbia, Dodge and Jefferson counties. Southwest Wisconsin counties of Grant, Crawford, Lafayette, Richland and Vernon counties are included in the federal application.
Jadin said MadREP is working to get more minority and young professional people on local boards and committees, and to improve education and training. As many as 25 percent of the region’s African-American population is unemployed, even though the area’s overall jobless rate is 5.7 percent, he said.
“We’d better make sure that population is ready to accept those roles that companies have for them,” Jadin said. “The workforce is there; let’s make sure we’re preparing them.”
One keynote speaker for the summit, Ken Salazar, applauded the regional moves to encourage diversity.
“Your diversity will be something that will strengthen the community,” said Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 2009 to 2013.
At the morning keynote, author and economic trends expert Joel Kotkin briefed attendees on how Madison measured up with other municipalities in the competition for more high-skilled jobs and workers.
And it was largely good news.
Kotkin, a professor of urban studies in Orange, California, said Madison’s amenities, its lakes and neighborhoods, restaurants and shops, plus its lower cost of living and growing base of high-skilled, STEM-related jobs — short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — gave it distinct advantages over similar coastal cities.
“It is the whole package that makes Madison attractive,” said Kotkin, who writes a weekly column for Forbes.com and edits the website newgeography.com. “San Francisco has more dogs than kids. Unless you are very wealthy, you cannot afford to have children in San Francisco.”
Kotkin also cited encouraging statistics, which put Madison at or near the top nationally on economic measures such as STEM-employment growth between 2001 and 2013. At 26.7 percent, Madison grew STEM jobs faster than the Minneapolis area, which saw a 2.1 percent rise, and far better than New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which saw drops of 4.7 percent, 6.1 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, Kotkin said.
“You have an opportunity to really move forward,” he said, putting Madison in a group of attractive but affordable and growing mid-sized cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, and Fargo, North Dakota.
“These smaller cities are really well positioned now,” he added, to see continuing growth and to lure more skilled young people from the Millennial generation as they become older and start wanting to raise families.
But to remain strong, Kotkin said, Madison and other cities also need to provide more opportunity for low- and middle-income workers who have increasingly been shut out of the nation’s economic gains since the 1970s. He said ideas to help create a “more expansive and more inclusive” economic recovery included more investment in on-the-job training and in two-year colleges aimed at graduating students with “technical skills that will lead to more upward mobility.”
Maria L. Campbell — who owns Maria L. Campbell & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in executive leadership development, training and lecturing on diversity and inclusion as a key driver for business growth and empowerment — was the day’s final keynote speaker.
She noted that companies benefit from implementing diversity and inclusion practices not only financially but also by being able to attract talented employees.
However, Campbell said, implementing diversity and inclusion practices at a business isn’t just the responsibility of a program leader – it is the responsibility of everyone from corporate-level employees on down.