The energy from the opening plenary carried into the session on Responding to the Economic Crisis: How Cities and Philanthropy Are Creating Jobs and Putting People Back to Work. The stellar panel included an economist, a city councilman, a community foundation CEO, a national foundation program director, and the head of a state department of labor and industry. Moderated by Neil Kleiman, director of Policy and Research at Living Cities, the conversation focused on the demand side and the supply side of employment creation and a skilled workforce and how philanthropy can play a role.
Neil opened the session by asking the panel to talk about some examples that best personify public/private sector partnerships. What became clear in the hour or so that followed was that there has definitely been a shift in the way philanthropies and governments approach economic development.
In Phoenix, for example, a partnership between the city and Arizona State University to put a campus in downtown–while met with criticism by those who think government should stay out of education–has proven hugely successful and is embraced by the business and academic communities. In an area severely impacted by the economy, this collaboration, which has raised the sales tax for Phoenix, was the right move.
In Pennsylvania, a focus on identifying the industries and skills needed for jobs today and in the future was idenfiied as crucial by that state’s administration; they then set about working with “clusters” of industries who could brainstorm and share what is needed for their particular workforces.
The conversation in the room shifted a bit to a discussion about the necessity for institutions of higher learning to focus on job skills, rather than the liberal arts, which in today’s economy may be more of a luxury. We were challenged to prepare people to be “lifelong learners” and were reminded that those in the workforce today will still be in the workforce in 10 years, emphasizing the need for a two-generation approach to workforce training.
In Cleveland, the community foundation is working with the city’s mayor to promote internationalization and globalization as the path to economic success. Other examples included that foundation’s work to develop employee-owned businesses to help with wealth creation in underserved neighborhoods and a deliberate focus on alternative energy as an economic driver for the state.
Workforce training is no longer just a social services objective. But that doesn’t mean that linking economic development and workforce training isn’t difficult. Today’s panel was able to highlight that tenacity and risk-taking in this area will pay off.
It is indeed a new day.
Leslie Dunford is vice president for Corporate Governance & Administration at The Cleveland Foundation.