Economic development organizations are continually having to reinvent themselves with changing priorities like the current workforce skills gap.
Some are better than others with this difficult task.
The one economic development organization that seems to be best at combating this talent issue with a focused effort on connecting and training its own community's future workforce is the Marion Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO).
"Our community promise is to be a national leader in creating an insulated talent pipeline that is a competitive advantage for our community," said MEDCO President Nick Glew at the organization's annual luncheon last week. "This means investing in the youth who are here with us today in order to ensure they connect with local business and pursue careers here at home."
For many traditional economic development organizations, it used to be that recruiting businesses to expand or relocate to a community or region was the top priority. That is no longer the situation for most communities and regions, as the relocation of businesses or the expansion of an existing business is often hampered by the lack of workforce. This is especially acute in Iowa and the Corridor.
To be sure, we have appreciated the growing focus in the last decade or so on helping to launch our own businesses rather than the tired focus of business recruitment. And our region has experienced some success with this so-called entrepreneurial ecosystem due to organizations like the Small Business Development Centers, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, the Entrepreneurial Development Center of Iowa and the Iowa Startup Accelerator, amongst others.
This shift is continuing because the need for talent is paramount to everything else. Even the fast-growing, homegrown, entrepreneurial companies can't grow like they could due to talent shortages.
It's a real problem that won't go away anytime soon and needs a big picture, long-term strategy.
MEDCO has been seemingly more nimble over the past several years and able to pivot to its investors' needs; the need for more talent has been clearly heard.
Community Promise is MEDCO's workforce retention program focused on connecting local students with community careers. Through the newly created Marion Community Promise Foundation, eligible students can now access Pursuit Grants for up to $4,000. These dollars are available once students identify a local business partner and are ready to begin specific training for a job with that company.
The grants are designed to support local business partners seeking to equip their next generation of talent, as well as students the community seeks to retain after high school.
MEDCO isn't able to do this alone. They have strong business support, as well as support and involvement from Kirkwood Community College's Workplace Learning Connection and the Marion and Linn-Mar school districts.
We continue to be impressed with this effort and hope that it can become a national leader, and a model for the rest of the Corridor region.