Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Good news for small towns

If you don’t subscribe to the feed for BoomtownUSA (one of the sites linked in our sidebar), the blog maintained by economic development guru, Jack Schultz, you are missing material that is often germane to Maine’s economic development milieu.

Take for instance, last Friday’s post, about legislators and rural economic development. Schultz was a speaker at an annual conference in St. Louis, where legislative leaders from across the country gathered to hear about issues affecting rural America (which is where 20 percent of the U.S. population resides).

As Schultz is want to do, he highlighted one of the people he’s met in his travels across the U.S. and some interesting thoughts about small towns.

Milan Wall is Co-Director of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Lincoln, NE. Wall’s organization is well known for their success in working with small towns, starting first in Nebraska, but expanding out around the country.

For your edification, here are Wall’s Five Myths of Small Towns:

Myth One: Towns that are ‘too small’ have no future. Some have questioned whether towns of less than 300 or even 2,500 have any future but Milan cited the example of Nenzel, NE (up close to the SD border) that only has a population of 12 but was able to build a community and heritage center. Of course they used the 150 people in the surrounding farms and ranches to help them! Milan, “It is all about attitude!”

Myth Two: A community’s location is key to its survival. “Some will argue that it is location, location, location but don’t tell that to Wray, CO where 11 leaders got together and started to set some priorities for their town of 2,000. They raised money to build a recreational and rehabilitation center and then a new hospital. Today, they are doing a reverse migration, bringing doctors out of Denver to practice medicine in Wray.

Myth Three: Industrial recruitment is the best strategy for economic development. “When the key leaders in Jackson, MN were in Chicago calling on potential companies they learned that their largest industrial employer was closing its doors. They rushed back, decided to turn their ED efforts upside down and started concentrating on their own backyard businesses. In one year they replaced the 300 jobs that were lost but spread it around 10 different companies, not just one.

Myth Four: Small towns can’t compete in the global economy. Milan cited Cabela’s which is today selling products in over 140 countries around the globe. Cheyenne County, NE, where they are headquartered, is the fastest growing county in the entire Great Plains in terms of growth in per capita income.

Myth Five: The ‘best people’ leave small towns as soon as they can. Milan argued that in a post-9/11 world, young people are more security seeking. He cited a study that showed that more than 50% of high school students want to eventually return home, while 50% want to own their own business. And, this same study showed that 15% already own their own business while in high school!

Wall’s points certainly indicate reasons why Mainers across our state can be hopeful about our future.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Generation work

[Left: Manpower's April Clark and the four generations in the workplace]

Have you ever wondered why your co-workers are so different? If you are a member of the baby boom generation, you might wonder why that millennial next to you seems to spend most of his/her day waiting for the clock to strike five, so they can scoot out and see their favorite band. Meanwhile, you’re wondering if you’ll make it home by seven, because you need to get that proposal finished.

If you’ve never had the good fortune of hearing Manpower’s April Clark give her presentation, about the four generations in today’s workforce, then you’ve missed one of the keys to understanding one of the prevalent dynamics in the 21st century workplace.

Clark is the state’s regional director for Manpower Inc., a leading staffing firm, with offices worldwide. She self-identifies as a baby boomer and because of that, like other “boomers,” tends to put career ahead of other priorities, which is foreign to younger workers, like members of Generation X (born 1964 to 1978), or millennials, also known as Generation Y, (born after 1978). These younger workers are all about balancing life and work. They tend to thrive on workplace creativity and excitement, and, especially in the case of millennials, they also switch jobs on average once every 16 months to keep that spark alive.

Manpower’s Clark is featured in an article posted at Mainebiz Online. You can read the entire article here.

Oh, and try to catch Clark's presentation live, coming to a town near you!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Taking HR cues from the Patriots

Since we're nearing America's next national holiday (Super Bowl Sunday, for those of you living under a rock), I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and link to an article in Workforce Management, citing the Patriots as models for HR professionals.

According to an article by writer, Kris Dunn, there are four key components driving the club's "team first" culture that's translated into the NFL's first 18-0 mark in league history.

Given that the majority of workplaces in the 21st century require teamwork and cooperation, Dunn's article is worth a read for anyone on the management side.

You can read the article here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tomatoes from Backyard Farms

[-Welcome to Backyard Farms-]

[Inside the greenhouse-entering another world-]
[-Our tour begins-]
[Backyard Farms' worker, pruning the Backyard Beauties-]

Indoor greenhouse offers economic options for Somerset County and elsewhere

Maine stands at a crossroads as a state. The state is attempting the transition into the 21st century, from a traditional, resource-based economy, to an economy that is positioned to take advantage of its unique heritage, while at the same time, making sure it can compete on a global stage.

While much of the talk coming from Augusta speaks in vague generalities about the need for more educational opportunities and technology-based training, a Madison-based company, Backyard Farms has taken a traditional industry, agriculture, and added a new twist. It’s model may offer hope for other rural regions of Maine.

Too often, economic development in Maine has lacked a centralized and consistent focus. Without being overly criticial, it bears mentioning that the state has been missing a statewide strategic emphasis in growing our economy. There have been a variety of reasons and even excuses offered for why Maine’s economic growth has been limited to narrow geographic pockets, mostly based in southern Maine. None of these reasons, in my opinion, have addressed the issues plaguing rural areas of the state. While Maine's taxes might be higher than other parts of the country, tax cuts by themselves won’t pull rural Maine out of its economic doldrums.

The model being employed by Backyard Farms is an intriguing one. Located in Madison, in Somerset County, their 24-acre greenhouse is growing a variety of tomatoes that are finding their way to markets throughout New England, including Hannafords and Whole Foods supermarkets.

A group consisting of members of the Department of Labor, based out of the Skowhegan CareerCenter, the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board and Coastal Enterprises, Inc., received a tour of the state-of-the-art greenhouse, located on the outskirts of town, off Route 43.

Walking into the greenhouse, from the snow-covered and chilly plains was like walking into a different world. The greenhouse, which is kept at a temperature of 80-85 degrees, was bright, green and buzzing with bees.

Currently, Backyard Farms employs 100 workers and they have long-term plans for increasing their operation from the current greenhouse to having nine greenhouses and employing around 500 workers, over the next five years.

Founded in 2005, Backyard Farms is able to provide New England with fresh, locally grown "Backyard Beauties" tomatoes on a year-round basis. The company’s values include the principles of taking care of its employees, giving back to local communities and treating the earth with respect. All products are shipped within just a day of harvest. Their tomatoes are left on the vine until the peak of maturity, creating a tomato that is sweet and bursting with flavor. The greenhouse is among the most modern in the world and they are employing the most advanced and environmentally friendly greenhouse technology available.

While the area has relied upon logging and papermaking for its prosperity, with Madison Paper and Sappi in Skowhegan being major employers, the diversification offered by Backyard Farms is a positive economic development for Somerset County.

Additionally, while niche agriculture isn’t as “sexy” as biotech and other commonly talked about industries proposed for Maine, the example of Backyard Farms could very well be a model that could be replicated in other rural areas of Maine.

By introducing various skills-based training programs that help retool and upgrade the local workforce, indoor agriculture might work well in other economically-challenged areas of the state. It also may be the beginning of a 21st century sector that Maine could become known for, like manufacturing and papermaking were during much of the 20th century.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Westhoff joins LWIB and WIRED/NSAI

In January, James Westhoff joined the Workforce Investment Board as the new Industry Liaison for the North Star Alliance. Previously, James worked at Bowdoin College's Career Planning Center, where he was the school's assistant director of planning.

The State of Maine received a Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant. According to the U.S. DOL website, "WIRED is a groundbreaking approach to workforce and economic development. Through the WIRED model regions integrate economic and workforce development activities and demonstrate that talent development can drive economic transformation in regional economies across the United States."

Under the WIRED model, the North Star Alliance Initiative (NSAI) is a revolutionary industry-led collaborative, synthesizing business, R&D, education, workforce, and economic development resources to re-skill a workforce and launch a new regional economy in Maine. The targeted industry sectors are the boat building, marine trades, and companies that use advanced composite materials and the goal is to allow the industry to tell us what they need around workforce issues. This initiative provides funding to companies for training new and existing workers through classes, on the job training, apprenticeships, and any other needs that companies might have. We partner with several organizations and bring them to the table to see if they can help with any issues if ours cannot be used.
FMI, please contact Westhoff at 753-9035, particularly if you think your business may benefit from these innovative programs. Additional information can be found at the NSAI website.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New Cianbro president and CEO

This morning's Maine Sunday Telegram had a nice feature on Andi Vigue succeeding his father as president and CEO of Maine's largest construction firm.

The younger Vigue became president and chief operating officer of the employee-owned Cianbro on Jan. 1. His father, Peter G. Vigue, left the president's office to become the company's chairman of their board of directors.

"We're not changing, we are transitioning leadership," said Andi, 37. "Our core values are going to be the same."

Andi's transition into his father's role begins the company's move to its third generation of leadership, from the original Cianchette brothers, to Pete and now to Andi.

From an early age, Andi worked in different parts of the trades, pouring concrete, cleaning equipment and eventually running operations. In many ways, he's been prepared to take the leadership position since.

You can read the entire article, here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Aging workforce a concern for Maine

The issue of Maine's aging workforce will affect the state's long-term economic plans, unless the issue is addressed. How can the state attract new businesses and create jobs, if we don't have the labor pool we need to take care of our current employers?

I had an interesting article given to me that appeared in last Sunday's Maine Sunday Telegram.

Charles Lawton, a senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy and research firm in South Portland, published an article about the implications of Maine's aging population.

Aging population requires redefining 'job'
Maine Sunday Telegram/January 13, 2007

Most of the attention to jobs in Maine in recent months has been focused on the demand side. How can we create more jobs? Will there be a recession? Will the subprime credit mess spread beyond finance, housing and construction?

This attention is certainly warranted, but in the long run we are likely to see as much of a problem from the supply side. Where will we find the people to fill the jobs we have (or could have)? How can we grow and attract business if we can't demonstrate an expanding labor market? As with most issues in economics, job growth is a double-edged sword, a vicious or virtuous circle.

Here's the paradox. The Maine Department of Labor's Employment Outlook to 2014 projects job growth of approximately 7 percent between 2004 and 2014. Given likely national industrial growth trends and Maine's historical share of those industries, we could expect to see approximately 48,000 more jobs over the coming decade. But -- given our likely population growth and historic patterns of labor force participation by age group -- the department, in another report, projects labor force growth over the same period of just under 28,000.

Read the rest here.

Maine's jobless rate increases

(from The Daily/Mainebiz)

The Maine Department of Labor today said Maine’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate increased from 4.9% in November to 5.1% in December, reflecting national trends. The country's unemployment rose from 4.7% to 5.0% during the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of seasonally-adjusted nonfarm wage and salary jobs increased by 1,000 between November and December, primarily as a result of 700 new jobs created in the accommodation and food services industry. State Labor Commission Laura Fortman said the increase was likely driven by the best conditions in years for winter sports enthusiasts.

WorkReady set for January 28

Why WorkReady™ Makes Sense

The WorkReady™ credential makes sense for both employers and employees wanting to acquire the necessary skills that will help them get and keep a well-paying job.

As our state's population continues to grow older, the once robust pool of able-bodied workers grows smaller and continues to shrink. As a result, employers and HR professionals are finding it harder to fill existing positions, making it difficult to maintain necessary employment levels, or address needs caused by expansion.

Today’s forward-thinking employers recognize the urgency of upgrading the skills of the existing workforce, particularly if they hope to remain competitive in the global economy.

For those seeking a better job, or who for a variety of reasons, have been out of a job for awhile, WorkReady™ is a great way to jumpstart your job search, or even, begin pursuing that career you've always wanted.

WorkReady™ is designed to provide the “foundational” skills needed in today’s rapidly changing and complex workaday world.

Interested participants are urged to contact the Lewiston CareerCenter at 753-9001, for more information.