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Economic growth from the inside

(This information appeared as an article in the Journal Gazette - October 28, 2018)

Focus on maximizing talent already here, rather than attracting some superstar employer - By Dr. Cosette Grant-Overton

Focusing on glitzy companies to attract to the region is not the best solution for building a robust economy in greater Fort Wayne. Concentrate first on nurturing local businesses and workers, through reskilled or upskilled training.

More than half of the world's workforce will need to be taught new skills by 2022, according to research by the World Economic Forum, with 54 percent needing to be upskilled or reskilled to meet the global workforce demand. By 2025, half of work tasks will be automated.

Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. How organizations respond to this reality will be telling of future outcomes. This new era, often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution – has fundamentally transformed business, the broader economy and society.

Fort Wayne – once a manufacturing town, is in transformation to a new industry – automation.

How are local businesses and their working population preparing for this paradigm shift? Are African-American workers getting their fair share in this growth opportunity? And what is happening in our schools, colleges and universities to prepare the present and future workforce for global competition?

In terms of regional growth, the challenge has been – and will continue to be – aligning workers with workforce needs as well as preparing workers. This entails starting at ground zero in the retraining of some, while providing upscale training for skilled workers. In greater Fort Wayne/Allen County as well as the 10 surrounding counties of northeast Indiana, the talent gap in manufacturing skilled trades, especially, has birthed the need for more businesses to support their existing workforce by developing a highly trained, skilled, elite workforce that reflects a racially diverse talent pool.

It also necessitates individuals taking on an educational charge that more adequately aligns with their preparation for this global paradigm shift and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation.

There is a paradigm shift underway. Brett Walsh and Erica Volini, human capitalist leaders at Deloitte, maintain in their 2017 article “Rewriting the rules for the digital age” that there is a dramatic changing digital, economic, demographic, and social landscape across U.S. cities and beyond.

At the same time, the opportunity gap comes at a time when the U.S demands for a well-educated and diverse workforce to compete within the global economy.

So it becomes critical that business and industry evolve into a more active response role faster than ever before by creating space and conditions to increase opportunity for success, and participation in the preparation for global economic demand in the 21st century .

For decades, economic policy was based on the dominant strategy of inciting competition in hopes it might plunder businesses and jobs. And for quite some time, this is also how economists thought about regional growth.

Now, however, economists vary, with some suggesting that an estimated 2 percent of net new jobs in most places come from attracting new businesses.

That's why some policy wonks are shifting their thinking to a locally focused agenda on the development, reskilling and upskilling of talent.

This is all about using talent and assets that are right before you to kick-start economic turnaround. In the meantime, forget about sole efforts to attract superstar corporations to the region. Instead, think about how to grow and sustain existing firms and help them to become superstar-like.

It's far easier to become distracted by the sizzle elsewhere as opposed to the fire in one's belly.

It doesn't take long to see the inherent resources and amenities right before us: a drive down I-69, U.S. 6 or U.S. 30 highway corridors, north and south, east or west from Fort Wayne, will take you past an array of high-tech labs, manufacturing-rich production sites, medical device manufacturing plants – you name it, it's right here, front and center.

The challenge for policymakers is thinking less about high-profile individual projects and more about how the building blocks of growth we already have can be tied more closely together across the region.

I applaud the work in progress by regional stakeholders of northeast Indiana in building the blocks toward local considerations, while at the same time charging local businesses and industry stakeholders with the task of supporting business and workers as an approach to accelerating regional growth.

But don't forget about being racially and gender inclusive. That will help in reaching a larger talent pool while helping you achieve your economic bottom line.

Ultimately, the most successful endeavors will engage a holistic approach where government and business leaders, industry experts, staffing professionals and educational institutions work creatively and collaboratively to prepare emerging talent.

Together, they can meet the challenges of automation and evolving technology, a shifting economic landscape and other factors to conquer disruptive change, today and in the future.