Monday, December 29, 2008

A regional approach to economic stimulus

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an OpEd by Clifford Winston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, about the potential for pork in Mr. Obama’s proposed federal stimulus package coming down the pike.

Winston argues the wisdom of large expenditures of federal capital without a requisite return on the social side—basically, not wasting this opportunity by funneling funds to projects like polar bear exhibits and water-park rides.

[Will the Obama economic stimulus target the right infrastructure projects, or will it be stuffed with political pork?]

As public officials, like governors, line up for the new administration’s largesse, the list of infrastructure projects continues to grow—the number now rests at 11,391. These projects are what are being referred to as “shovel-ready” by governors like New York’s David Patterson.

Bill Dodge, over at the blog, Regional Communities-“Think Globally, Act Regionally”©, shares some similar ideas about stimulus packages and infrastructure development.

Like Winston, Dodge sees the proper response from the new administration to be one rooted in a cultural understanding of the issues and needs, and to resist the cynical response of resorting to “business as usual” when it comes to federal spending.

Dodge proposes a two-phase approach to economic stimulus. “Target labor-intensive public works efforts, such as “(weatherizing) public buildings and (assisting) homeowners to do the same. Recycle natural resources, such as converting pine trees destroyed by bark beetles into fuel for pellet stoves.”

Then, Dodge advises revisiting the “shovel-ready” projects and determining feasibility based upon whether they pass a “renewability” test.

Dodge, who the former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, and author of the book, Regional Excellence: Governing Together to Compete Globally and Flourish Locally, sees the wisdom of rolling this infrastructure package out, regionally. This would seem to make sense, given that the U.S. is made up of contiguous regions. Dodge contends that there are approximately 600 regions nationwide.

I’d recommend reading both Winston and Dodge on this subject, particularly because I think it's an approach that could benefit Maine.

Accessing key resources during economic hard times

Economic woes, and job layoffs are finding Mainers turning to a versatile resource for help—their local public library.

For those without computers, libraries help bridge the technological/digital divide that exists in Maine, and other states, nationwide. Given that more and more job and career resources are available online, not having access to technology can be a dealbreaker for anyone looking to put together a resume, scour state job boards, or other sites, as well as file unemployment claims.

Sharon Kiley Mach has an article in this morning's Bangor Daily News highlighting this increase in library use across the state.

Like local libraries, Maine’s CareerCenters fill an important niche for job seekers, those laid off, and folks needing assistance with transitioning into new employment, or accessing various state services affiliated with the loss of employment, like filing unemployment claims.

Each of the state’s CareerCenters have computers with internet access available to the general public, as well as staff that can assist job seekers with information, as well as workshops on updating a resume, interviewing skills, career exploration as well as strategies for upgrading work skills, and programs like WorkReady.

As I wrote about earlier in the month, technology and workforce go hand in hand. Computer literacy, or the lack thereof, only compounds the problems of those that are out of work. Fortunately, in our area (Lewiston-Auburn), groups like DEC recognize the issue and along with other resources, are stepping up and making a difference, through their Digital Divide Project.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Solis named new U.S. labor secretary

President-elect Barack Obama will name California Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis as his labor secretary, adding a Hispanic woman to his Cabinet, a Democratic official said Thursday.

The official announcement will be made on Friday, in Chicago.

Solis was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of East Los Angeles, including a large portion of the Hispanic community.

“Hilda Solis is a very strong champion of working families and will be an outstanding Secretary of Labor,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller. “Her record in the California legislature as a leader on labor issues and her excellent work in Congress on behalf our of nation’s working men and women will restore the Department of Labor as an advocate for hard-working Americans. I look forward to working with her and the Obama administration to move the country forward on expanding health care, improving worker safety, strengthening retirement security and rebuilding our middle class.”

In 2007, Solis co-introduced the Green Jobs Act of 2007 (H.R. 2847), along with John Tierney (D-MA). The act authorized up to $125 million in funding to establish national and state job training programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, to help address job shortages that are impairing growth in green industries, such as energy efficient buildings and construction, renewable electric power, energy efficient vehicles, and biofuels development.

The Workforce Alliance hails the nomination of Solis. This comes from their new release about the Solis nomination:

“Congresswoman Solis has been a champion for giving every American the chance to share in the prosperity of the 21st-century economy, including training people for good-paying jobs in emerging green industries,” said Andy Van Kleunen, the Alliance’s Executive Director. “During this time of economic challenge, we look forward to working with her in her new post at the Department of Labor to rebuild the American economy by investing in the American people.”

This appointment could very well be the centerpiece of the new administration’s thrust to stimulate the national (as well as Maine’s) economy through the creation of middle-class jobs in a green energy sector, through an investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Help for Small Business Owners In These Difficult Times

In these very difficult economic conditions there are important resources that small business owners should be aware of. Small Business Development Counselors are available to work with businesses on any issues they may have, including workforce training and development. Brad Swanson, one of the counselors I have had the pleasure to work with in a few situations has written a wonderful article about the help the counselors can provide. He also mentions the Maine's 2-1-1 system when someone needs personal help through these difficult times. He has given me permission to share his article here and since it is public record he hopes it is shared widely. Brad's contact information is within the article and go to the SBDC website for more information on the services provided through this program.

Getting the Right Kind of Help When Your Small Business is in Trouble
By Brad Swanson, Maine SBDC Certified Master Business Counselor

As a Business Counselor with the Maine Small Business Development Centers ( I am all too aware of how the current global economic and financial crisis is impacting Maine’s small business community. Conditions are very, very tough out there right now. Sales are down. Expenses are up. Cash flow is tight. Credit is tight. Many businesses are finding it hard, if not impossible to survive.

The Maine Small Business Development Centers is one organization that Mainers turn to for assistance, to start, to grow, and now to try to save their businesses. My colleagues around the state and I are trained, experienced and certified to assist. We have business acumen, technical skills and knowledge of local, regional, state and federal resources targeted to help the self-employed and small business owners here in Maine. We work diligently, one on one with our clients; we listen and offer free, confidential, honest and respectfully business management support. In troubled times, this support is often what we are told has made the biggest difference to getting through. Small business ownership can be a lonely job. And to have a trained professional with whom to talk things through is very helpful.

Our assistance is on-line as well. The Maine SBDC has recently posted a special section on our web site that offers good, solid, clear advice and tools on how to survive the sort of downturn we are currently experiencing. There are live links to a wide range of resources available to inform and assist small businessmen and businesswomen in Maine as they adjust to these trying economic times.

We know that there are circumstances where a business solution is not possible, however, where neither credit, nor cost cutting, nor any other intervention will make a difference. The business situation is not reversible. Often, these situations will escalate the level of stress for the business owner, or self-employed individual, causing anxiety, fear, and confusion. When this occurs the questions change from the need for business support to a need for personal support. Where does one go when business counseling cannot make a difference, when there is a pending business failure with its resultant emotional turmoil? Where is the support for someone in crisis, unable to cope any further with the realities of their business situation and the impact that it is having on the rest of their life? Many Mainers in crisis turn first to family, friends, church and community. The support of trusted and caring others is a time honored means for making it through the toughest of times.

If a crisis intensifies beyond the family’s or close friend’s ability to assist, Maine’s 2-1-1 (211) system provides an easy access statewide call-in directory for local and regional professional health and human services support for services including food, clothing, shelter, crisis intervention, counseling, suicide prevention and many other emergency services. 2-1-1 represents a better and easier way to find answers when this level of support is needed.

Small business is challenging and not without its risks. Knowing where to turn for support in the face of a business crisis is essential. Knowing what other support is available to weather the personal impact from a storm such as the one blowing through our economy right now, is clearly as important.

Brad Swanson is a certified Master Business Counselor at Maine Small Business Development Centers. He is part of the Maine SBDC service center at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. With an office in Brunswick, Brad is currently assigned to work with businesses under the North Star Alliance Initiative. He can be reached at

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Network update-Franklin County

The folks in Franklin County, tucked into Maine’s western mountains, recognize that education is one of the key components in its economic future. Without the requisite skills and training, most of its residents are sure to be left behind, unable to compete in a global marketplace, and certainly unable to access a middle-class way-of-life that was once part of the American Dream.

The Franklin Community College Network provides an important catalyst in providing educational opportunities, by providing a pathway to higher education and training, and eliminating obstacles and barriers that in the past may have prevented many in the area from accessing, or even considering college, or a skilled trades career.

Since 2005, the network has provided college-level instruction to 246 students, many of them going on to matriculate at Central Maine Community College, and elsewhere. Additionally, the network has also helped set up training for more than 100 residents of the county for trades-related jobs, partnering with companies like the Cianbro Corporation to provide welding classes. During this time, no student has ever been turned away due to financial reasons, remarkable in itself, and even more so considering the tough economic conditions that have plagued the region since the demise of the wood products industry, and other traditional industries.

Last night, the network recognized nine organizations and their representatives for their role in making the network a reality.

The network also accepted a legislative sentiment of appreciation, acknowledging the organization’s recent Noyce Award for Nonprofit Excellence. The award, which was presented by the Maine Community Foundation, recognizes one nonprofit agency each year. The Franklin County Community College Network was selected from among 16 nonprofits--one from each county--that were awarded special Maine Community Foundation 25th anniversary community-building grants in November. Semifinalists for the Noyce Award included Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, Trekkers, Community Wellness Coalition, and St. Mary's Health System.

You can find more information on last night’s award ceremony at The Daily Bulldog’s website.

For an overview of the network, I’ve included this link to an article that I wrote back in 2007, on how this network approach to training and education came to be.

Additionally, the Annie E. Casey Foundation commissioned writer Betsy Rubiner to do an article on the network, which illustrates their Rural Family Economic Success (RuFES) framework of Earn It, Keep It, and Grow It.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Is energy independence a reality?

Energy independence is a hot topic these days. Conversations about alternative energy are commonplace, as are beliefs that technological innovation will ultimately save the day when it comes to reliance on oil, and in particular, foreign oil. Texas billionaire, T. Boone Pickens, has put up significant amounts of his own money touting his belief that wind and natural gas is how we wean ourselves from the vestiges of foreign petroleum. Additionally, the recent presidential horserace was rife with politicians weighing in on the need for America to become independent of foreign oil, and the geopolitical ramifications of said dependence.

Good books and good writing often finds a way to cut through the commonplace, and takes us to places away from the chattering masses. Robert Bryce, in his latest book, Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of “Energy Independence," does just that. Taking the position that energy independence is a myth at best, and that ethanol, wind, and even solar, can’t provide for our ever-increasing needs for electricity and other accoutrements making our American way of life possible, Bryce isn’t afraid to swim against the popular current of information that oversimplifies the issue.

Bryce is no Johnny-come-lately to energy, as his first two books, Pipe Dreams, and Cronies laid the foundation for this one. Sadly, there aren’t enough writers like Bryce selling books today that dare to tell the emperor that he’s not wearing any clothes.

The concept of energy independence isn’t a new one. Then President Nixon vowed that America would be energy independent in six years. This was in 1974, during his January State of the Union address. A year later, with Nixon departed in disgrace, his replacement, President Ford, claimed it could be done in decade. Jimmy Carter warned that the world’s oil supply would run out in a decade. This was back in 1977.

The introduction to the book, called “The Persistent Delusion,” lists a who’s who of American’s across a variety of spectrums of public life, from policymakers, to actors like Robert Redford, as well as media types, who’ve used the rhetoric of “energy independence,” to the point that it’s a cultural belief on the part of most Americans, even though few know what this really means.

From the book,

“The appeal of this vision of energy autarky has grown dramatically since the terrorist attacks of September 11. That can be seen through an analysis of news stories that contain the phrase “energy independence.” In 2000, the Factiva news database had just 449 stories containing that phrase. In 2001, there were 1,118 stories. By 2006, that number had soared to 8,069.”

Obviously, journalists like the topic and are writing about it, even though they may lack any substantive evidence to support their efforts. In their parlance, all foreign oil is bad.

This is particularly true of Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, and author of several books, including what became the bible for most business people two years ago, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, at least it was a book that they loved to make reference to.

Bryce doesn’t like Friedman too much, at least his ideas and concepts on energy. First, he takes him to task for supporting the oil-causes-terrorism theory, which is also the position held by groups like The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and their Set America Free manifesto that propagates that idea. Along with Friedman, they believe America’s best weapon against terrorism is to decrease U.S. dependency on foreign oil—if it was only that simple.

Second, Bryce exhibits a healthy amount of skepticism towards the promotion of policies oriented towards wind that Friedman supports. Similar to Pickens, Friedman holds the belief that building a national electricity grid from the Dakotas to Texas to harness the power of the wind where it’s produced and transporting it via large transmission lines to the population centers where it’s most needed (according to Friedman, urban areas like his own NYC), will dramatically reduce our need to import foreign oil. Next, according to Friedman, the wind power can then be used to power electric cars. He posits that all of this will mean dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions.

The issue that Bryce has with wind is its unreliability—the wind only blows at certain times. He makes the point that wind advocates regularly talk about megawatts, which details generating capacity. Bryce makes the point that kilowatts are the key measurement that should be focused on, as when that is analyzed, we see that the comparison to other sources of electricity production—nuclear and coal-fired power plants—illustrates that scale shows that wind may not be the savior that Friedman, Pickens, and some in Maine think that it may be.

Going on to make strong points about how few Americans understand the rules of the energy game, and the science behind it, Bryce makes the case that they become pawns in the game, easily duped by politicians, environmental advocates, and others that stand to gain from wind’s development.

Bryce saves his greatest scorn for ethanol, calling it a scam in chapter 12.

I recall during the early days of the 2008 presidential race, President-elect Obama was trekking across the Midwest with a fleet of ethanol-powered cars. I’m sure this was around the time of the Iowa caucus, if my memory serves me right.

Bryce makes the case that the passion that many have for ethanol borders on “religious fervor,” and that those that hold a belief in its efficacy also consider it to be “morally better than oil.” This kind of advocacy is dangerous, in my opinion, and Bryce certainly makes the case that this is so, and that it leads bad policies, like Maine’s current 10 percent ethanol mix in our gasoline, which leads to a significant decrease in vehicle fuel efficiency. If you track your gas mileage, like I do, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Spending a good portion of the book showing why independence is impossible, and that the issue is really, interdependence, Bryce’s book is a worthwhile read for anyone who cares to cut through the fog of myths and get to the crux of the issues about energy. A definite must read, in my opinion.

For those who view book reading with trepidation, particularly nonfiction, Gusher of Lies is a very readable book. Excluding footnotes and the appendix, GoL checks in at less than 300 pages, which isn’t bad for the amount of usable information that you’ll take away from spending time with the book. I read it in a weekend, and Bryce does a good job of breaking the book up into bite-sized bits, as many of the 22 chapters are less than 10 pages each, which allow you to read portions here and there and not lose the main thread, which is a real plus.

It was released earlier this year, so I’m hoping that politicians and policymakers put it on their reading list for early 2009.

In closing, I want to make a couple of points on my own, particularly as they apply to workforce issues.

There has been quite a bit of talk and discussion about green jobs and developing an economy tied to alternative energy. I’ve put up several posts here, myself. I am as big a champion of this as anyone. Having said that, I think it’s important to separate the myths between what’s real and attainable, particularly for a rural state like Maine, and the “pie in the sky” kind of talk that politicians and some policymakers are known for—much sound and fury, signifying nothing. The latter is not anything I’m interested in.

On that point, I think our workforce board in Central/Western Maine is pursing this matter systematically, beginning slow, building upon an evidential approach. I hope to have more to report on this in 2009, as I think there is legitimate potential for opportunities tied to efficiency, and boosting occupations that are linked to skilled trades.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mixing workforce and technology

These are challenging times. With the economy in a nosedive, and Mainers hunkering down for 3+ months of winter (and then mud season), it’s natural for some to be pessimistic. Personally, rather than be pessimistic, I’d prefer to look for reasons to be hopeful, recognizing that this economic dark season shall pass, believing in the cyclical nature of the economy and markets.

One way to look at this downturn is choosing to see it as an opportunity to plan and make provisions for the recession’s end. An area that some are choosing to focus on is the area of workforce development, recognizing that it ties directly into economic prosperity.

The city of Waterville is fortunate to have a group of people that see the future of the greater-Waterville area as tied to strengthening its workforce. In a state where the population is aging, and where far too many young people are choosing to start their work careers elsewhere, having a regional strategy for workforce/economic development is key to future growth and job creation, not to mention being able to staff current levels of need in healthcare, skilled trades and manufacturing, and the possibility of new jobs tied to a clean and green economy.

Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, John Butera, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, and Executive Director, Ken Young, Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, head up the business community’s focus on strengthening Waterville’s workforce for the future.

Recently, this leadership trio spearheaded an effort to launch the community’s first offering of WorkReady, an innovative soft skills training program that has had success in other communities in the state, most notably Lewiston/Auburn. Butera noted at Tuesday’s meeting of the Chamber’s Business & Retention Committee that the emphasis in economic development circles has shifted noticeably towards developing the workforce.

“Ten to 15 years ago, economic developers were focused on infrastructure, real estate, incentives, etc. as key components to growing regional economies. That has shifted dramatically, as human resources (i.e. workforce development) have become THE driving force behind a region's ability to move forward and transform their economy,” said Butera.

Communities like Waterville that understand the importance workforce development in their economic growth mix, will be well-positioned in 2009/2010, when Maine’s economy picks up again.

Given the city’s prime location relative to I-95, it’s solid downtown infrastructure, the great potential represented by the Hathaway Creative Center, two major healthcare institutions, along with Colby College and Kennebec Community College just up the road, Waterville is a community worth considering for business growth and expansion. It is also going to be a place in Maine where young people might be attracted to, as evidenced by trends elsewhere. Add to that the commitment of members of the community like Lindlof, Butera, and Young, as well as Waterville Main Street's Shannon Haines, and Waterville bears watching, and even some investment by prudent and forward-looking investors.


Speaking of economic growth and moving Maine’s future forward, high speed internet access continues be problematic for large portions of the state. In a 21st century world, having substandard technological access only compounds some of the state’s other issues.

Recently, PC Magazine listed ISP speeds in New England, and Maine was next to last, just ahead of tiny Vermont. While it was nice not to finish dead last in New England, raising Maine’s surf speed to the national average might be a worthwhile goal (Maine is at 427 Kbps and the national average is 527; Connecticut, which is first in New England is at surf speeds of 716 Kbps). Also finding a way to bring all parts of the state along to where high speed internet access is both available, and affordable would be laudable. [Source: The Daily/Mainebiz (scroll to bottom)]

Too often, rural areas of the state lack broadband access, as well as affordable options and are forced to rely on outmoded dial-up access to the Internet. Equally unacceptable is that large swaths of densely populated communities like Lewiston, including downtown, also lack affordable options for broadband. Why is this? Possibly, it’s the lack of ROI for telecommunications companies that ought to be making investments in residential broadband, but decide that the socioeconomic level doesn’t warrant it—i.e. “bang for their buck.” That reason doesn’t address the need for broadband, irrespective of income level, however, which is a much broader discussion that this post won’t address. It also affects businesses that might want to locate downtown, and could provide some needed economic stimulus and jobs to the heart of the city.

One possible solution might be a state-wide network of Broadband over power-lines (BPL), which could be powered eventually by clean energy. There are still variables and logistics to work out, but this holds promise for rural states, like Maine, in solving their issues of state-wide broadband access.

One network model that has some possibilities for Maine would provide asynchronous broadband (same up/download speed constant) at a speed of 512 Kbps. This would begin small, in select areas and could grow as the network expands and a broadband backbone is developed. Eventually, it is possible to grow this state-wide. Wind power might factor into the equation for powering this.

A group in rural Franklin County, Western Mountains Broadband Cooperative, is currently at work on the logistics of making this happen. Stay tuned for more details in early 2009.

[Note: FairPoint Communications, a new telecomm player to Maine, is also looking at ways to expand broadband options in the Mid-Maine area. FMI information, contact KVCOG, or fill out this online inquiry form.]

Another local initiative with a great deal of promise is the Downtown Education Collaborative’s (DEC) Digital Divide project.

DEC is a local partnership consisting of seven academic and community institutions. They recently opened a new storefront education center at 219 Lisbon Street, located in the heart of downtown Lewiston, an area where computer and internet access is at a premium.

DEC’s mission will be to pursue education partnerships in and with Lewiston’s downtown residential community. Its members include the four colleges of the Lewiston-Auburn area — Andover College, Bates College, Central Maine Community College, and the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston Auburn College — as well as the Lewiston Public Library, Lewiston Adult Education and Empower Lewiston.

Recognizing that few residents of downtown Lewiston own computers, and that the cost of buying a computer, not to mention maintaining it is cost-prohibitive to many residents of downtown, DEC saw creating computer access as a natural fit with their mission.

When DEC became aware that there were two fully functioning computer labs, with relevant software and Internet access, located in the downtown area (representing 31 computers), but were often not accessible due to staffing issues, they took it upon themselves to remedy this.

By helping to provide staffing, DEC has been able to ensure that both labs are accessible five days a week. DEC has been able to facilitate staffing, which provides technical help, as well as one-on-one assistance and mentoring. This has helped residents with online job searches, resume writing, getting training on how to use Microsoft applications, learning keyboarding skills, setting up email accounts, and using Rosetta Stone (language) software.

Working in Maine will be revisiting this exciting project in the near future.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Maine Career Development Association Workforce Trends Fall Workshop

On Friday, November 21st the Maine Career Development Association held its Annual Fall Workshop at the University College at Rockland (UROCK as it is now known). The workshop was fantastic with four great sessions covering labor demographics, the aging workforce, cultural considerations for new Mainers, and an employer panel focusing on the healthcare and technology fields. In my opinion, the most important information that came from the day were the on-line resources that I will share below.

John Dorrer from the Maine Dept. of Labor, Center for Workforce Research and Information (CWRI) gave a great presentation on labor demographics. Even though the economic outlook is bleak in the near future, I came away with a positive feeling that Maine has the workforce and educational infrastructure to succeed in these difficult times. According to John, data will help us make the most pragmatic decisions on what career fields to focus on. The Local Employment Dynamics website, shared by John, is a great site for economic and workforce folks to have at their fingertips. With a click of the mouse anyone can use this site to do research on Maine's workforce in any field statewide or down to zip code. This is a completely free and very easy to use website. John shared that job growth would be in the healthcare field (51%), professional/business (18%), and leisure & hospitality (17%).

In the second session, Phyllis Cohn of the AARP, discussed issues around Maine's aging workforce. Her main discussion points were about how to help businesses effectively bring together the different generations that are working side-by-side and prepare for secession planning. She shared three resources from the AARP website that will be helpful to career and business counselors. They have a workforce assessment that businesses can use to determine their demographic levels and how they are engaging the workforce. Second, is the AARP's Employer Resource Center that provides much information about the needs of different generations of employees and how they work together. Third, AARP has a list of best employers for older workers. Finally, Phyllis shared one other resource that is not related to the above topic, but I thought it was very interesting. The Center to Champion Nursing is a great advocacy program developed by the AARP and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote education and careers in this field.

The final two sessions were covering cultural considerations when working with New Mainers and an employer panel that discussed workforce trends in technology and healthcare. New Mainers are an untapped population that could be extremely important for Maine's workforce in the near future. Joe Kumiszcza, the Executive Director of TechMaine (the technology association in Maine) shared that he is seeing 300 jobs a month on his career website.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Maine Teachers Learn about Marine and Composite Careers

Over the past 2 months I have been involved in a "Building Bridges" program with Maine teachers. It has been the best and most exciting program I have worked on in my short time as the North Star Industry Liaison. Three groups of teachers from the Augusta, Bath, and Wiscasset districts each visited four different employers to learn about careers in the boat building, composites, and marine trades. The fifth visit was at Bath Iron Works and all of the teachers participated in that event. The overall goal of the "Building Bridges" program was for the teachers to learn what employers are looking for in industry and to apply this knowledge to their curriculum.

I participated with the Augusta teachers as they visited Hodgdon Interiors in Richmond, Kenway in Augusta, Tex-Tech Industries in Monmouth, Great Pond Marina in Belgrade Lakes, and BIW. At Hodgdon Interiors they learned about the precision cabinet making that goes into multi-million dollar boats. The teachers were able to ask questions of the employees and directly see the attention-to-detail that goes into this work.

Kenway produces large composite parts for hydro and energy plants on one side of their production facility. On the other side, Kenway produces small composite pleasure boats. The teachers were able to see the closed-mold infusion of a boat and the vertical infusion of a 20' tall part for an energy plant.

At Tex-Tech we saw the production of composite fabrics for tennis balls, acoustic insulation on aircraft, to fabrics for military application. Finally, we visited Great Pond Marina, a family-owned small business. Here the teachers learned about the importance of customer service and how a small business owner has given great benefits to his employees. Bob Gardner has created a small staff that is very loyal and motivated because they are treated extremely well.

On Tuesday, November 18th all of the teachers came together for the final session of "Building Bridges". They all shared what they learned from their visits and how they are going to apply the knowledge in the classroom. To a person, all of the teachers felt that this was one of the best experiences of their careers and they were very motivated to do a similar program for their students. Many of the teachers shared that they have already used stories from their visits in the classroom. Building Bridges is an inexpensive and fairly easy program to carry out. I truly believe we should be doing these types of programs with students and teachers in different career fields.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Green means go

The development of a green jobs sector in Maine continues to be an area of focus of mine, beyond basic skills development, such as WorkReady. Tuesday was illustrative of our workforce board’s multi-pronged approach to workforce development.

I began my day in Waterville, which is slowly becoming one of my favorite Maine communities. I got to participate in the city’s first-ever WorkReady graduation. After graduation, it was time to make the 20 mile drive northeast, to Unity.

[On the road to Unity]

Unity, just over the county line, in Waldo County, was once home to a thriving poultry industry. When hard times hit the industry in Maine during the mid-1960s, Unity lost its major employer. As the old adage goes, when handed lemons, you make lemonade. Well in Unity, when handed the loss of poultry-processing, they decided to start a college. In 1965, Unity College, located on Quaker Hill (on the site of a former chicken farm, nonetheless), was born. It is now the town’s largest employer.

I first met Vice President of Advancement, Rob Constantine, at the Maine Development Foundation’s Annual Meeting, back in September. Rob and I struck up a conversation about workforce, education, and in particular, a green jobs-based economy for Maine. He extended an invite to the college. While I regularly have made my way to Unity each fall for the Common Ground Country Fair, I had never visited the town’s college campus.

As luck would have it, both Rob and I had open slots on our calendars in the afternoon, so I left Waterville, and it was northeast or bust for me.

If other guests are treated as well as I was, and given such a great overview of Unity, then it’s not surprising that the school’s star is on the rise. Rob’s obvious passion for his job, and his skill at presenting the school’s mission and focus were evident during my 2+ hours touring the grounds, and meeting staff and faculty.

Given my interest in seeing Maine develop an energy sector, with an economy oriented towards green jobs, as well as Unity’s orientation towards environmental sciences and sustainable practices, the match was obvious; even more pronounced once Rob began expounding on the various things happening on campus.

It became apparent to me that Unity is a school that could incorporate the necessary training if and when the Maine and the rest of the U.S. adopts an economic development model tied to green energy, and in particular the kind of jobs that sector would produce.

While Unity currently offers only four-year degree programs, I think if a clear career track was identified, with the attendant core skills delineated, the leadership style of the institution appears capable of program offerings that would meet whatever demand becomes necessary to support a green economy.

[Unity House--comfortable living, and carbon-neutral]

One of the highlights of my visit was meeting Cindy Tomashow, the Unity president's wife, and getting a tour of Unity House, the school's zero carbon solar home that the school built in partnership with MIT School of Design, and Bensonwood Homes. You can read about elements of this intriguing house at a blog devoted to it.

While some continue to call green jobs "pie in the sky," nothing could be further from the truth. Already, groups like Opportunity Maine have come forward with plans that can begin training programs immediately. Rob Brown and Clifford Ginn have developed "A New Energy Initiative for Maine," which provides a clear path for Maine. From the executive summary,

Many of the jobs of the New Energy economy will be similar to or the same as those of the fossil fuel economy. For every new energy auditor, solar thermal installer or wind technician, Maine will need dozens more electrical or HVAC technicians, insulation installers, steelworkers, carpenters, plumbers and IT specialists, but with upgraded certifications in a variety of green skills. We must move aggressively to increase our supply of green-skilled workers to address our immediate heating crisis and to meet the needs of a broader, emerging New Energy sector.

Other states, like Oregon and Massachusetts have models in place, so Maine doesn't have to reinvent the wheel in moving forward. Nationally, there is a Clean Energy Jobs Bill, currently awaiting funding, which could come in the form of a stimulus package for infrastructure with the coming of the new administration. Then there are people like Van Jones, who sees an opportunity for clean energy to lift the economic boats of many, rather than just a few.

Maine continues to surprise and amaze me with its innovation, great people, and potential for the future. Every time I think I know the state, some new aspect jumps up and presents itself. Green jobs and an energy sector is something that Mainers have the wherewithal to do, all it takes is a little vision--just like a group of chicken farmers had in Unity, back in 1965.

WorkReady in Waterville

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of being in Waterville and seeing nine candidates receive their WorkReady credentials, having successfully completed the 60-hour, three-week course, wonderfully facilitated once again by the gifted Kathleen Lewia. Kathleen also facilitated our recent WorkReady in Pittsfield, for laid-off San Antonio Shoes’ workers.

The program in Waterville was our first offering of WorkReady in this city of just over 15,000, located in Northern Kennebec County. The impetus behind bringing our workforce board in to coordinate the recruitment of businesses, and gathering various community partners, came from Kim Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, John Butera, executive director for the Central Maine Growth Council, and Ken Young, executive director of the Kennebec Council of Governments. Their interest in WorkReady was a result of a determination they made, after consulting with local business leaders in greater-Waterville that workforce development is a key component in Waterville’s (and the region's) future growth.

Our graduation was held in the heart of downtown, at the Center, which formerly was Sterns Department store, for those old enough to remember. The building is now a mixed-use building with retail space, professional offices, a theater, a dance studio, meeting rooms, and an indoor playground. REM, a downtown grassroots non-profit housed at The Center, rents out the Forum, which we used for our graduation. With its large window, looking out onto Main Street, providing us with abundant natural light, the space was a wonderful venue for our first graduation.

[Group photo of the WorkReady graduates]

WorkReady continues to provide a foundational first step for many low wage/low skill workers, as well as others transitioning from under-employment, or unemployment, into viable work opportunities. Programs like the one in Waterville, under Kathleen Lewia’s tutelage, also help get at some of the root self-image and presentation issues that often plague significant portions of our potential workforce, keeping them from realizing their full potential.

[Kathleen Lewia shares her thoughts about WorkReady]

[Graduate Heaven Love speaks eloquently about what WorkReady meant to the group]

The employer community was supportive our initial effort, with the following employers providing in-kind support by participating in our mock interview day, the week before:

Kennebec Valley Council of Governments
Bonney Staffing
Mid-State Machine
Global Card Services of Pittsfield
The Hampton Inn of Waterville

Other community partners that were particularly supportive and made the program a success were Mid-Maine Regional Adult and Community Education, which delivered our curriculum and coordinated instruction. The United Way of Mid-Maine graciously provided classroom space for our program. Coastal Enterprises, Incorporated provided partial funding for the program.

A special thanks is extended to Nikki Desjardins of the Hampton Inn, for her efforts in helping with recruitment, as well as spreading the word throughout the employer community. Nikki also helped connect me with key community partners. She has become an ambassador for WorkReady in Waterville.

Tonya Clark of T-Mobile has also been an enthusiastic supporter of our first pilot.

WorkReady has been and continues to be a collaborative effort in each community where it finds success. I am optimistic about the program’s long-term future in Waterville, given our first run through.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

College costs continue to escalate

The cost of a college education continues to spike upward. While this is problematic for all students contemplating college in the near future, as well as their parents, it is increasingly an issue for states like Maine, which is struggling to increase the numbers of students enrolling in higher education.

A survey just released by the College Board, a nonprofit association of educational institutions that provides assistance to college-bound students, indicates that tuition for the year climbed 6.4 percent for in-state students at public four-year institutions, to an average of $6,585. Private colleges jumped 5.9 percent to an average of $25,143. The cost of attending community colleges declined, after adjusting for inflation, by 0.8 percent to $2,300 for the year.

A report released earlier in 2008, by the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit, indicates that the United States spends more per student than any other industrialized nation, yet it ranks at the bottom in degree completion (54%), says a 2007 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization average is 71%; the high is 91% in Japan.

At the same time, the United States leads the world in the number of years its students spend in school, seat time obviously doesn't always translate into performance.

[Ctr. for College Affordability and Productivity, 11/3/2008]

For some, data like this is calling into question the accepted wisdom of continuing to push four-year college as a panacea to all our problems.

Speaking to this, with a clear mandate for Maine, is a recent report indicating the direction that New England should take to succeed as a region, in the 21st century. You can read an executive summary of the Nellie Mae Foundation report, prepared by a Boston-based non-profit, Jobs for the Future, here.

For a college student's perspective on the cost of college and what it means to him, as well as some thoughts he has about an Obama presidency, you can read Zac Bissonnette's recent post from The Daily Beast.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Supporting Maine's lobster industry

Maine's traditional industries have been buffeted by various forces of late. The fuel price spike this summer was one of the issues many faced. The economic downturn has also been wreaking havoc.

There may not be a more iconic traditional industry in Maine than its lobster industry. Anyone who has spent time traveling Maine's coastline will attest to that.

Like much of rural Maine, the old ways are changing, and not always for the best.

Back in early October, the bottom fell out of the lobster market, as prices plunged from an already ridiculously low boat price of $2.60/lb (in Port Clyde), to $2.25/lb. At one point in October, the price hit rock bottom, at $1.75/lb, in Friendship. One doesn't need to be an economist to know that with all the other price pressures lobsterman were facing, that this was not a positive development. These prices were the lowest they had been since just after the attacks of 9/11. For more on this issue, you can read Sandra Dinsmore's article in The Working Waterfront.

One Maine business has recognized the plight of Maine's lobster industry and is taking steps to promote one of Maine's best-known products.

From a news release issued by the Harraseeket Inn:

Greetings from the Harraseeket Inn,

In our effort to help put extra money into our lobstermen’s pockets, we are going to do our part by buying and selling as many lobsters as we possibly can. We’ll be doing this a number of ways. For the month of November, we will be including halved lobsters on our Sunday Brunch Buffet at the same price as our regular buffet. Our Chef de Cuisine, Gallitt Sammon, has prepared a 5 course nightly lobster tasting menu in our Maine Dining Room. We will also be running nightly specials in our Broad Arrow Tavern. With the help of our friends over at Potts Harbor lobster, we’re going to be offering live or cooked lobsters to all of our guests to take home at a reasonable price. We’re also creating a special overnight “Lobster Lovers” package plan to include all of the above. We think it’s important that everyone think of ways to help such a vital part of Maine’s economy and identity.

There is a lobster brunch is this Sunday, so we hope to see you there!

Thank you,

The Gray Family

For more information, contact the Harraseeket Inn 162 Main Street, Freeport, Maine 04032, 800-342-6423 or 207-865-9377

Monday, November 3, 2008

WorkReady graduation-River Valley

Last Thursday, a group of six graduates received their WorkReady credentials at an awards ceremony at The Bear-ly Inn and Restaurant, in Dixfield. The credential signified that they had completed the seven standards of the WorkReady curriculum. This was the second program that's run in the River Valley area of western Maine, and was the 15th WorkReady program that's been coordinated by the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board.

At the graduation, I met a local reporter from the Rumford Falls Times, a community weekly. The reporter, Amy Chapman, had written an article back in October detailing the program while it was in session. I thought Chapman's article was well-written and did an excellent job of capturing the particulars of the Rumford-Mexico-Dixfield program.

One small caveat to Chapman's article. While WorkReady was developed under the auspices of the Department of Education/Adult Education, in Maine, the Department of Labor was not involved in WorkReady's development. Their role has been primarily as a partner, through the CareerCenter system, aiding in recruitment, and participating in the assessment of candidates.

WorkReady class underway at Region 9

Rumford Falls Times, Oct. 22, 2008
By Amy Chapman

MEXICO – A dozen area adult learners are gaining practical job search, resume, and interview skills, thanks to the WorkReady program at Region 9. Created jointly by the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Labor and offered to participants free of charge, WorkReady offers training in the “soft skills” needed to be successful at work.

Some of those who are enrolled in the class have been laid off from long-term employment and need to put together a resume before re-entering the job market. Some are receiving public assistance and are eager to find work to support themselves and their families. And others, tired of a series of dead-end jobs, are looking for more challenging and fulfilling careers.

Several students said they came to the class through the ASPIRE program. ASPIRE, which stands for Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment, is Maine’s welfare-to-work program. It provides support for living expenses, clothing, and school supplies while recipients are attending classes to increase their employability.

What all the participants have in common is a desire to make themselves more attractive to potential employers by learning how to handle the job search and interview process, and more likely to succeed in future employment by improving their skills in everything from computer basics to social interaction.

The class is being offered at Region 9 through a grant from Coastal Enterprises, which improved on the basic 60-hour WorkReady course by funding an additional 20 hours of training. The extra class time allows participants to develop their computer skills, giving them time to work in the computer lab each day, said instructor Jolan Ippolito.

The students come in with a variety of computer skills, she said. Some are quite proficient, while others have never before used a computer and must begin with learning how to turn it on.

“I was completely computer illiterate,” admitted Linda Waters. “I still don’t know very much about them.” Ippolito assured her that by the end of the course all students will possess basic skills with email, internet searches, and Microsoft Word. These basics will give them the tools they need to research careers, find and apply for jobs on-line, and create cover letters and resumes.

Area employers come to Region 9 to work with the WorkReady class, offering mock interviews to help them get ready for the real thing once they graduate from the program. They offer feedback, letting the students know what they are doing well and what they need to work on to become competitive in the job market.

The program’s community business partners include Oxford Federal Credit Union, Boralex, Northeast Bank, Hannaford, Franklin Savings Bank, Mark Henry Enterprises, Hancock Lumber, Western Maine Insurance, and Sunday River Ski Area.

“The employers who are brought in to the class will help me know how to handle myself in interviews,” said Terra Tidswell.

“I’ve spent many years in business,” said Ippolito, “but in this class I’m able to tell people the things I couldn’t tell them as an employer—things like what skills they lacked that prevented them from getting the job they interviewed for.”

Many students find that the WorkReady class opens up new possibilities. “We’re distinguishing between jobs and careers,” said Veronica Ames. “A lot of us just survived on jobs while we were raising our families, but now we’re looking for careers for the rest of our working lives. I’ve especially enjoyed the self-discovery phase—finding out what I want to be, know, and learn. It’s about building up self-esteem and learning how to sell ourselves and our abilities.”

Tidswell, a mother of three, said it was important to her to set a good example for her children by doing something that would expand her opportunities. “I want to teach my kids that you have to get out there and do something for yourself,” she said.

Many students said the supportive atmosphere and positive feedback from classmates increased their self-esteem and helped them raise their aspirations. “I needed to work on my resume, but I really needed a support system,” said Sholarn Jones. “It’s helpful to get feedback from others about your good qualities.”

Ippolito said one of the most important aspects of the class is teaching students how to set goals. Ames agreed, adding, “A lot of people don’t know how to set goals. We might say, ‘My goal is to earn $100 to pay my light bill,’ but that’s a really short-term goal. We need to plan for medium- and long-term goals, like finding a career, and learn how to break them down into small, manageable pieces.”

“This class is a comprehensive tool,” said student Germaine Carrier. “It gives you a lot of skills you really need to have before you present yourself for a job interview.”

WorkReady is always looking for community business partners. Employers and businesses who would like to find out more information or participate in the program should contact Jim Baumer, Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board at 207-753-9026.

[WorkReady grads and program partners]

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What does Maine's energy future look like?

Mainebiz, along with Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), hosted an energy symposium on Thursday, at the Wyndham Hotel, in South Portland.

The Powering Up Maine event was meant to highlight how Maine's businesses are dealing with rising energy costs in the state. Like any event remotely linked to alternative energy, and tagged with a "green" label, this one was well-attended, with close to 200 participants on hand. It probably didn't hurt that former Governor, Angus King, was the keynote speaker.

King, who has become a champion for wind power talked about wind being the solution to our energy needs. He laid out a case for wind having the potential to gradually replace our dependence on fossil fuels. Since Maine relies heavily on fossil fuels, it is King's contention that Maine must look for new sources within the state to meet its energy needs. Citing Maine's abundant wind resources, particularly those in Casco Bay, his proposal is for a series of "wind ranches," built miles offshore on large platforms.

“The wind potential off the coast of Maine could make us the Saudia Arabia of the world,” said King."

According to King, there is a great deal of interest in the idea, but it will require action on the part of Maine's business community and policymakers for it to happen.

King is one of the principals in a wind power firm in western Maine, Independence Wind, LLC.

After the keynote, a panel discussion featuring business owners and state leaders was held, highlighting some of the challenges inherent in creating new energy sources, and alternative methods of power generation.

The panel featured Sara Burns, president and CEO of Central Maine Power Company, Tony Buxton, chair of Preti Flaherty's Energy and Utilities Practice Group, Pat Coon, managing partner of Revision Energy, Don Hudson, president of The Chewonki Foundation, and David Wilby, director of development and public affairs, at First Wind.

Burns spoke about issues faced by CMP as it upgrades its power grid. This project is essential in bringing additional new electrical capacity online. Currently, the company is running into a variety of challenges from residential customers, and others, exhibiting "not in my backyard" behaviors, and opposition to necessary improvements required to complete the upgrades.

Coon spoke extensively about conservation and efficiency being keys to the state's energy challenges it faces. He spoke about the lack of understanding that many residential electrical consumers have about basic elements of their consumption.

One of the challenges I recognized from the panel discussion (which was being recorded by MPBN for later broadcast) is that even among the five panelists, there was a lack of agreement about what represents the right energy mix for Maine. What percentages should oil, natural gas, hydro, biomass, wind make up?

Buxton talked about natural gas as being a key component, which wasn't agreed upon by the other four panelists. Both Buxton and Burns talked about an important, and often overlooked component of alternative energy and the greening of our power production options--jobs for Mainers.

In a state where residents of its rural areas are more and more turning to gaming/gambling as economic development tools, jobs and workforce development should be given their proper place in the mix, when alternative energy development is discussed.

Beyond that, Thursday's symposium is an important initial step to further discussions about what Maine's energy landscape will look like in five to 10 years.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Partnerships matter

[From the Bangor Daily News]
Coastal Enterprises Inc., (CEI) a Wiscasset-based community development organization, has received a federal allocation of $112 million that will allow it to help finance small businesses and development projects in low-income communities.

“Coastal Enterprises continues to provide invaluable services to communities throughout Maine,” Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said in a joint statement on Oct. 20. “Investing in affordable housing and community development in Maine’s rural and underserved areas will provide an opportunity for economic revitalization.”

You can read the rest of the BDN article here.

CEI is a private, nonprofit Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with roots in the civil rights movement. Founded in 1977, the organization provides financing and support in the development of job-creating small businesses, natural resources industries, community facilities, and affordable housing. CEI's primary market is Maine, but, in recent years, has expanded several of its financing programs to northern New England, upstate New York and beyond.

Much of CEI's efforts occur "below the radar," without splash, or hoopla. Yet, without the work and efforts of this organization, it's hard to imagine what other organization, if any, would have picked up the slack over the past three decades.

Over the past two years, CEI has invested over $100,000 in local projects in the five counties (Androscoggin, Kennebec, Oxford, Somerset, and Franklin) of Area 3, partnering with the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board. Because of this, our board recognized CEI's president, Ron Phillips, and Paul Scalzone, a project manager with CEI, with an annual Spotlight Award, at WIB's annual meeting, in October.

Phillips, Scalzone and CEI have been key community partners in the collaboration required to build private/public models of workforce development in the state, and have been a key player in our board's efforts to develop the requisite skills that Maine’s businesses are looking for.

[Ron Phillips and Paul Scalzone receiving a Spotlight Award from Director, Bryant Hoffman]

Friday, October 24, 2008

WorkReady gets positive press

The WorkReady program, an innovative soft skills training initiative, orginated in Central/Western Maine, received a nice write up in this morning's Bangor Daily News.

Reporter Sharon Kiley Mack, who covers the Mid-Maine beat for the newspaper, was in attendance yesterday, for the graduation ceremony, in Pittsfield, for 10 former shoe workers from the San Antonio Shoe factory that closed earlier in the year.

The well-written article begins,

Ten women sat on one side of a long table Thursday with their work portfolios and resumes proudly displayed in front of them. Their hair was recently styled, their makeup was in place and they were exuding self-confidence.

Together, the women represented more than 178 years of faithful service as employees of San Antonio Shoe. "I was there when they opened," said Frances Huff, 59, of Burnham. "I was there for 24½ years."

But earlier this year, SAS abruptly closed and moved its Pittsfield operation to its home base in Texas, and women who only had made shoes for most of their lives were suddenly faced with finding new jobs outside a factory setting.

You read the entire article, here.

For more about the Pittsfield WorkReady, check out this blog post, from the program's mock interview day, with local employers.

[Graduation photo]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Mainers Workforce Partnership-L/A hosts first graduation

Back in April, a group of community partners got together and formed the New Mainers Workforce Partnership-L/A. The objective was workforce development and training and specifically, the focus was oriented towards designing a training program specifically targeted to non-English speakers.

In May, Maine's Department of Labor released a report, An Analysis of the Employment Patterns of Somali Immigrants to Lewiston, from 2001 to 2006. The report provided something more than anecdotal evidence of concerns that many had been voicing, concerning unemployment within the immigrant/refugee population in Lewiston/Auburn.

With the release of the report, the NMWP-L/A had hard data to warrant the efforts of a diverse group of local partners, representing the Central/Western ME Workforce Investment Board, Lewiston Adult Education, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., the Lewiston CareerCenter (MDOL), Catholic Charities of Maine, DHHS/ASPIRE, and STTAR (Refugee Acculturation & Self-sufficiency services) Consultancy.

Lewiston Adult Education did a remarkable job making key modifications to an existing, successful ready-to-work curriculum specific to the need to introduce workplace language skills to non-English speakers. Components of the ready-to-work training consisted of 60 hours of soft skills, with an additional 60 hours targeted towards cultural skills specific to helping trainees understand the ways of the American workplace.

[proud graduates display credentials]

Beginning September 8, 13 new trainees embarked on a rigorous six week training pilot, the first offered in Lewiston (Portland initiated a somewhat different pilot back in 2007). Four hours per day, this group of six women and seven men spoke in English, wrote in English, and processed all activities in English, all designed to improve their basic skills in preparation for employment and/or additional training.

While the majority of participants were Somali, other countries represented were China, Puerto Rico, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

[Two trainees pose for photo]

[Trainees and their two training facilitators/instructors]

During this six-week program, each week, a local employer came into the classroom and spoke for an hour about business practices, expectations of new employees, and opportunities at their place of business. These businesses represented manufacturing, customer service, staffing, and telecommunications. One week ago, nine local employers participated in two days of mock interviews, preparing each trainee with additional opportunies to hone an important aspect of getting a job, helping them with the nuances necessary for success.

Yesterday, 13 proud trainees were awarded credentials indicating completion of the seven standards of the curriculum at a ceremony at The Green Ladle, Lewiston Regional Tech Center's new culinary arts center.

All in attendance (which included several local businesses) could clearly see how pleased these trainees were of their efforts and the significant progress they had made. In fact, one young lady expressed her thoughts about the program by saying that completing the training was like moving from "darkness into light."

Funding for this program, as well as a second pilot to be offered in early 2009 came from Maine's Department of Labor, as well as Coastal Enterprises, Inc.; significant in-kind support also was contributed by the various partners, and members of Lewiston/Auburn's business community.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Entitlement America

When Gretchen Neels, a Boston-based consultant, was coaching a group of college students for job interviews, she asked them how they believe employers view them. She gave them a clue, telling them that the word she was looking for begins with the letter "e." One young man shouted out, "excellent." Other students chimed in with "enthusiastic" and "energetic." Not even close. The correct answer, she said, is "entitled." "Huh?" the students responded, surprised and even hurt to think that managers are offended by their highfalutin opinions of themselves.

So begins a recent article from the Wall Street Journal's Careers section, which adapted it from a new book by Ron Alsop, on the millennial generation in the workplace.

Alsop, who is a WSJ columnist, gives an in-depth profile of a generation, 80 million strong, and set to turn the world of work on its head, not to mention turning manager's hair gray. Born between 1980 and 2001, the youngest work demographic is a paradox of values and motivations--entitled and expectant, but also philanthropic and community-minded, not to mention, often possessing skills in abundance. The question becomes, how do we harness them in a way that they don't overturn the workplaces that aren't set up strictly for them?

Alsop's book reminds me that we seem to be in an entitlement phase at this time in America. Young and old alike seem to think that life owes them something more than an opportunity to access success.

I've been musing lately about where this attitude originates. It is certainly influencing our current race for president, as many are making their choice for the next leader of the free world entirely based upon, "what choice of candidates will do the most for me?"

While Alsop's book is focused on the younger set, an attitude of entitlement isn't reserved merely for those younger than 25. It infuses all stratas of the American demographic landscape, IMHO.

Maybe my thoughts on this subject have been influenced by my choice of reading material of late. I'm reading Studs Terkel's classic, Hard Times: An Oral History of The Great Depression, which was written in 1970.

I'm amazed by the stories in Terkel's book, about how our country, 75 years ago, was such a different place. Americans were tougher, able to withstand adversity and economic deprivation with a spirit that's long disappeared from our shores.

Today, every little inconvenience is fodder for a string of complaints, and an attitude permeated by expectation.

I'm old enough to remember men and women from my youth that told me stories similar to the ones in Terkel's book. Given that our own economy has taken a turn southward, I thought it might be time to revisit the past for some wisdom and coping skills. I haven't been disappointed.

One thing that I'm impressing on every person I counsel about work skills and what employers are looking for, is to focus on helping them create value, as well as modeling the right values. These two things, gleaned from the past, will serve anyone--millennial, Gen X, boomer, or traditional--well in the coming weeks and months.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Smart (growth) reading list

As the fall begins to fade, and the darkness of winter encroaches, it is time to think about reading material to get us through that period that The Tragically Hip referred to as "rent-a-movie weather," in one of their songs.

While movies are good, books, IMHO, are great.

Thanks to the good folks at GrowSmart Maine, you now have a great list of books to add to that holiday shopping list for friends and significant others. Even better, there's a link to one of Maine's great independent book stores, Books Etc.

There are two books on the list that I highly recommend.

I'm a history kind of guy, so Changing Maine: 1960-2010, edited by the Muskie School's Richard Barringer will provide valuable context for anyone that cares about our great state.

I've referred to this book often in my research on Maine. It includes a great assortment of essays from Charles Colgan, Lisa Pohlmann, Chris Potholm, David Vail, and others. Well worth the $20 you'll pay. I guarantee you'll be pullling it down off your bookshelf frequently.

A new bit of information about the book; an index has been created for the book, which the lack of had apparently generated criticism. As a publisher of books of my own and others, I know what type of effort is required to produce an index (and why I don't have one of my own for my first book, which regularly gets mentioned). Well one has been developed and can be accessed here.

The second book I'd recommend if shopping on a shoestring would be Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses. If you need ammo to answer friends and family's disdain and doubt when you tell them you don't shop at your local big-box, this is the book you'll go back to time and time again.

Mitchell lays the facts out so clearly, and in a readable way that its impossible to read this and not think twice about not supporting your local downtown retailer.

I plan on scoring several books from this list sooner, rather than later. I urge you to do the same.

[Name the Tragically Hip tune I reference at the top and I'll send you a copy of my latest book, Moxietown--I'll even sign it, if you like.--JB]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Notes from Summit 2008

[This is my own highly subjective report from yesterday's GrowSmart summit, in Augusta. You can read an excellent and detailed account by Christian, at the GrowSmart blog.--JB]

I attended most of yesterday’s Summit 2008: Charting Maine’s Future, put on by GrowSmart Maine. I had been invited to LiveBlog the day’s events, but decided to forego lugging around a laptop, and instead, took notes and hope to recreate a summary of my experience based upon those.

This was my second summit. I attended last year’s, which was good, but I thought this one was more pertinent to what I do on the workforce side, and the morning breakout session I sat in on was excellent.

GrowSmart’s President, Alan Caron welcomed the attendees to the Augusta Civic Center for the day and set up the day well, drawing upon the past week’s economic issues, and emphasizing the importance of the work that his organization does. GrowSmart is unique in that it is a non-ideological organization that is committed to ensuring that Maine is able to maintain its uniqueness of place, while also emphasizing growth that is sustainable and tied to perpetuating the geography of place.

[GrowSmart Summit 2008 opening address by Alan Caron-McNeil photo]

There were two morning keynotes following Caron. Bruce Katz, from The Brookings Institution, lead author of “Charting Maine’s Future” report, gave a progress update on where Maine’s come since its release in 2006.

Jim Chrisinger, of Public Strategies Group talked about Maine can get beyond its perennial fiscal crises through government innovation.

You can read about both of the keynotes via Christian McNeil's live blogging from the conference. I’m going to focus on the morning breakout session, as the green economy is an area I’ve become particularly interested in.

Adaptation and Building a Green Innovation Economy featured a panel made up of Ned Raynalds, Union of Concerned Scientists, John Dorrer, director for the Center for Workforce Research and Information/Maine Dept. of Labor, and Commissioner John Richardson, Dept. of Economic and Community Development.

The breakout was well-facilitated by GrowSmart’s Bruce Hyman, and included opportunities for members of the audience to ask questions, and posit some of their own ideas about how Maine responds to climate change, high energy costs, as well as seizing opportunities to utilize green solutions in growing our state’s economy.

I’m going to focus mostly on the workforce emphasis of the panel. I don’t want to slight Mr. Raynalds, but you can read the gist of his orientation by reading, Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast fact sheet.

I thought Mr. Dorrer was particularly strong on the panel. He contextualized well the intersection of the often talked about, but rarely defined, green jobs. In the midst of our current financial crisis, Dorrer believes that looking forward could be Maine’s “salvation.”

Dorrer expressed concerns about the capacity and skill makeup of Maine’s current workforce. Given the state’s demographics, the state’s labor supply continues to be constricted. He spoke of the need for a “massive inflow of capital,” which he believes is necessary to “engineer our future.” Rather than the typical call by government officials merely for capital, Dorrer also indicated his belief that there must be transparency when it comes to accountability and by extension, accounting structures must be in place to provide that to taxpayers, as he said “we owe that to them.”

With so much hype being made about jobs that are green, what specifically are they? Dorrer maintained that “many of these new jobs will look like the old jobs.”

Engineers will be needed (for R & D) and fabricators will be required to construct alternative energy infrastructure, like windmills. To match the capacity that will be required to meet the opportunity, Dorrer believes that it is essential that many more Maine students are channeled into science and engineering, which currently is not happening. I agree with Dorrer’s views, but without some type of change in our current emphasis at the state level, this is not going to happen. This is very much tied to the idea that Maine needs to orient its education to where are jobs are in the future, and by-and-large, this isn’t occurring now.

Commissioner Richardson spoke about the book, The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity, saying that “Maine is positioned nicely” to seize upon many of the tenets of this book.

Richardson, who resides in Brunswick, cited the efforts to develop the former Brunswick Naval Air Station as a “center of excellence” for alternative energy and innovation.

Some of the audience comments were very good. One young man asked about “Maine’s load capacity” as a state. How many people can the state support and still maintain a sustainable level of growth?

Another young professional spoke about the need to “bridge the gap” between the green social movement and the economic development model that leans green.

Discussion about the amount of total household income Mainers spend for energy (40 percent) was talked about. This is a significant issue, as it impacts any discussion about growth.

Ron Phillips, president of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. mentioned that today’s green movement is similar to the 1960s movements for change that he came out of, as a boomer. He mentioned the need for both state and federal tax policy to be adjusted to “promote green policies.”

Brian Doyle, a business development specialist for DECD, said that Maine’s youth need to be encouraged to move into the area of skilled trades, the earlier the better.

Not to overly emphasize Dorrer, to the exclusion of others, but he talked about Maine’s hope for success in the area of green technology requiring a “systems solution” resonated with me. Maybe it’s because I’m confronted (and frustrated) daily by systemic issues affecting workforce development, but I recognize that Maine has to meet this challenge and seize this opportunity, or, as Dorrer said, we’ll face “dire consequences.”

The day wasn't all wonking and policy. There was time for socializing, also. I met Peter, from Future Freeport blog. At lunch, I saw old friends from my activist days in Portland. I spent lunch catching up with another friend who I see too little of. He works for a Maine-based environmental organization. We had a chance to talk about the conference, some of the issues we see related to sustainable growth, and since we are both baseball fans, we managed to work in some conversation on the night’s opening ALCS game between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

Joel Rogers, co-founder of The Apollo Alliance, gave the afternoon keynote, after lunch.

Rogers talk was entertaining, as he blew through his PowerPoint at warp speed. Rogers spoke about “Climate, Energy, and Prosperity.”

Rogers, who lives and works in Wisconsin, drew similarities between his home state and Maine in that its residents have an almost prejudiced passion for their home state and its uniqueness. Rogers asked two questions. What makes a region rich? What makes Maine worth fighting for?

Building on the views of others, like former governor, Angus King, Rogers cited Maine tremendous wind potential. He also spoke about how investment in jobs tied to alternative energy/energy efficiency could create good career ladders that Maine no longer has, with the loss of many of its traditional jobs.

I had to cut out after Rogers’ keynote, to wrap up my week at the office.

The conference was worthwhile and I came away encouraged that a vision about where Maine should be headed was clearly laid out. The key will be whether collaboration and leveraging of resources can be achieved.