Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Solid local business coverage

Central Maine, particularly greater-Lewiston/Auburn is fortunate to still have a newspaper that values business reporting. Carol Coultas, who has been writing for the Sun-Journal for several years, attended the manufacturing summit, hosted by the Manufacturers Association of Maine.

[Summit participants tour WahlcoMetroflex (Jose Leiva/Sun-Journal)]

While Coultas is a fine writer, who regularly produces strong features highlighting business developments in our region, the newspaper's editorial team also deserves credit for allowing Ms. Coultas copy to develop her points. No matter how good you are as a writer, it's hard to develop nuanced stories when you aren't given room to write them.

You can read Coultas' article here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The road to manufacturing success

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
--Alvin Toffler, writer and noted futurist

The quote from Toffler ties in well to whether or not, manufacturing in Maine and by extension, the U.S. can be saved. The answer to the implied question yesterday, “Can Manufacturing Be Saved?” would be a hearty “yes.” At the same time, a caveat, or two, would be in order.

Lisa Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, deserves a great deal of credit for her tireless efforts to promote manufacturing in Maine. This association is a multi-industry organization, focused on economic, financial, educational, and business prosperity for all members and workers. Their first summit, “Saving American Manufacturing,” featured Michael P. Collins, national manufacturing guru and author.

Collins keynote address, last night, touched on a number of issues, and painted a picture that I would characterize as optimistic. Stating his personal mission as, 1) to educate people on the importance of manufacturing, 2) convince policymakers that we can’t allow manufacturing to decline, and 3) convincing manufacturers that they can compete, Collins’ efforts were successful, from my perspective.

One of the points he made to his audience of around 100, is one that is rarely made any more, in discussions pertaining to economic growth, and prosperity—manufacturing is the foundation of our economy! Collins emphasized that there are only three wealth-creation sectors within our economy:

  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Extraction (natural resources)

All the rest, like the financial sector, healthcare, and education, merely transfer wealth and result in a finite supply of wealth. In a state that is struggling with revenue, his take on wealth creation is worth heeding by policymakers of all political stripes.

One of the issues that Collins touched on is that manufacturing has always had a built-in market, domestically. Because of this, thinking beyond our borders has been hard, because 20 to 30 years ago, this wasn’t necessary. Globalization has forced manufacturers to begin to consider new markets, for the first time. Like any industry, or sector in the 21st century, those that are successful are those that have the capacity and willingness to adapt and transform themselves. Manufacturing is no different.

Granted, change isn’t easy and it poses challenges. However, Collins’ points indicate that for small to midsize manufacturers (SMMs) to compete in the future, they must be willing to change their focus from the internal processes to the external customer environment. In fact, countering many of the naysayers, American small and midsize manufacturers have a big advantage over their foreign competitors — the domestic market, because they are close to the U.S customers and markets and have led the world in innovation and services.

How is this done? Not by sitting back, or wringing one’s hands on the sidelines. Collins talked about the need for SMMs to go on the attack. This means adapting a market or external orientation and changing the organizations from being a defender- to a prospector-type organization. It will mean learning methods to profile the best customers, find new markets, select the best sales channels, develop new products, offer new services and change to an organization that can find the new opportunities.

During today’s morning session, Collins walked a group of small and medium manufacturers through a Visual Information Mapping (VIM) Report Card, based upon a turnaround business he was involved in a decade ago. This was a practical and prescriptive plan, which if implemented, offered some key tools to help manufacturers succeed.

The morning session was sponsored by an innovative, small manufacturer, from Auburn, Mountain Machine Works. Owner Bruce Tisdale, happens to be a member of our Local Workforce Investment Board. Tisdale spoke briefly about the business services that the Manufacturers Association of Maine offers to its membership, all services that have been helpful to Tisdale, in building a successful business model, as a small job shop.

While I’m not intimately involved in manufacturing, I fully understand the key role it plays in our state’s future, and am pleased that the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board continues to do all that it can to support its long term health.

Interestingly, much of what Collins talked about had applications across the spectrum. His points on tracking sales quotes, diagnosing problems, and then offering a prescription, as well as marketing materials, all could be applied with other industries.

I’ll end with an excerpt from an article that Collins wrote, back in August, 2007, for, as well as a link to a positive article pertaining to U.S. manufacturing.

"Contrary to the doom-and-gloom scenarios brought on by the tightening grip of globalization, American manufacturers can compete in the new economy and against foreign competitors — but not as we competed in the past. To find the new market opportunities, we must change our companies and go on the attack.

The most fundamental change will be adapting the company to the new demands of the marketplace. This is not a matter of simply hiring some extra sales people or spending more money on promotion. Becoming market-oriented is changing the company from an order taker to an order maker."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Saving American Manufacturing

I am attending a summit being hosted by The Manufacturers Association of Maine, being held tonight and tomorrow, at the Ramada Inn, in Lewiston.

Much has been written about the death of manufacturing and about America's loss of its manufacturing core. While statistics show that manufacturing jobs have been lost in many parts of the U.S., I believe that manufacturing is still viable, and in fact, is key to our economic survival, both as a state and for the U.S. to continue to maintain its economic power in the world economy.

Tonight, Michael P. Collins will be speaking on that very topic, in an address titled, "Saving American Manufacturing." Collins is considered a leading spokesperson for small and midsize manufacturers (SMMs) and has authored three books on issues that are germane to manufacturing.

I'm anxious to hear his talk and also, to have an opportunity to network with members of Maine's manufacturing community. I'm sure I'll learn new things about their workforce needs and possibly, about manufacturing's possibilities for Maine and other rural states.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Finding good news on Main Street

One of the reasons that I regularly read the Boomtown USA blog is Jack Schultz and his ability to find the positive stories in rural America.

While I’m far from being a Pollyanna and I wouldn’t always classify myself as a “glass half full” kind of guy, there is something to be said for distancing oneself from a constant negative drumbeat or stream of news. Schultz’ most recent post is an example of what I’m talking about.

Schultz writes (while waiting for his plane, at the airport),

In catching up on emails at the airport (thank goodness for mobile air card broadband), I was struck by the number of emails that I’ve gotten from Team Agracel on projects they are working on. We’ve got expansions being talked about or in the works for food manufacturers (3); auto parts (2); fulfillment; doors;
furniture; and several others.

In my 20+ years in the business, I can’t remember when I’ve seen as many companies looking at adding onto their existing facilities. You would think that with all of the negative talk in the media that they’d be contracting rather than expanding. It’s probably a good thing that they are watching their order books and backlogs rather than the talking heads on TV.

I’m becoming more convinced with each passing day that this downturn (I refuse to use the R-word yet!) will be shallow and swift. Every indication from our business is that manufacturers are bumping up against capacity constraints because of demand for their products. The problems on Wall Street aren’t having much of an impact on Main Street.

Let’s keep our eyes on ways we can make a difference on Main Street and Wall Street( and the news media) can fend for itself!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Older workers are engaged workers

Much has been made about generational differences in the workplace. In a study conducted by Sirota Survey Intelligence indicated that older workers (those age 63, or older) scored highest in employee engagement, although generational differences were not as pronounced as others have been reporting.

"Traditionalists" reported an 84 percent engagement level, vs. other groups, ranged from 77 to 80 percent.

  • Baby Boomers (aged 43 to 62) 77 percent
  • Generation X (aged 28 to 42) 78 percent
  • Generation Y (aged 27 and younger) 80 percent

While this is certainly an endorsement for finding ways to engage older, or "seasoned" workers in the workforce, it also dispels the idea that there are vast differences in the way that workers engage their work, particularly by age.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pepsi retains talent

Pepsi is one of the largest 200 corporations in the U.S. Unlike many other companies, Pepsi attracts and retains its talent. This is important at a time when American companies are facing a talent shortage, nationwide.

USA Today spotlighted Pepsi Bottling's CEO, Eric Foss, in yesterday's Executive Suite profile.

Here are six tips for retaining and developing talent that I thought were particularly good:

1) Most people quit because they feel underappreciated. Give talented executives stretch assignments.

2) It's a myth that all fresh ideas come from new hires and that long tenure creates stale thinking.

3) Good bosses are what make good employees. Leadership is about coaching and having a "teachable point of view."

4) Encourage disagreement among executives, but set up rules and make sure no one crosses the line of respect.

5) No development system compensates for a bad hire. When hiring, look for character and the confident look of a leader.

6) Don't worry about those who leave. Focus on those who stay.

Rumford WorkReady graduates 10

Since WorkReady was launched, back in 2006, the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board has now been part of 12 graduations, awarding 120 graduates the WorkReady Credential, signifying completion of the 60 hour WorkReady curriculum.

On Friday, perfect weather greeted us, as I was in Dixfield, along with Executive Director, Bryant Hoffman, to witness 10 graduates of the Rumford/Mexico WorkReady pilot, receive their credentials, in a very nice ceremony at the Bear-ly Inn, in Dixfield. The Inn, built in 1871, lent a touch of formality and importance to the procedings for the graduates, employers and partners in attendance.

This initial launch, in the River Valley Region, benefitted by its partnership with Nancy Allen, director of Region 9 Learning Center, in Mexico. Allen's enthusiasm, "roll-up-her-sleeves" approach to getting things done and attention to detail helped make this pilot one of our most successful launches. Additionally, training facilitator, Jolan Ippolito, brought a wealth of business and education experience to her task of preparing graduates for mock interviews, portfolio preparation and ways to improve presentation and selling the skills that each candidate leaves the program with.

Training programs benefit rural communities like Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield and the surrounding communities. As the area transitions away from some of the traditional industries that have played such a key part in the region's prior economic development. Even these traditional industries like logging, have been forced to change and adapt to technology, which now require higher level skills from workers.

[A truck loaded with logs makes its way along U.S. Route 2, in Dixfield]

[Paper production is still very evident in the River Valley]

WorkReady was made possible in the River Valley through Betterment Funds, secured by the Department of Education/Maine Adult Education, as well as a partnership between Region 9 Learning Center, Western Maine Community Action, the MaineCareer Center, the Central/Western Maine Workforce Investment Board and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. Additionally, special thanks is extended to Keri Osburn, at the River Valley Chamber of Commerce, for encouraging participation of the local business community, as well as River Valley Growth Council, for advocating for a pilot program in the area.

Finally, area businesses stepped up in a big way, as eight area employers and their representatives participated in mock interviews, on Wednesday, prior to the graduation, at the River Valley Tech Center. A hearty thanks is offered to the following companies for offering in-kind support by their presence; Mark Henry/Mark Henry Enterprises, Diane Perry/Franklin Savings, Anna Russo Bowen/Hancock Lumber, Hannaford Supermarkets, Cindy Giroux/Oxford Federal Credit Union, Colleen Ippolito/Northeast Bank-Lewiston, Jim Brown/Western Maine Insurance and Dan Pelletier/Oxford County Mental Health.Plans are being made to offer another WorkReady program in the fall.

[WorkReady grads and staff: Front (L-R)-Nancy Allen (Region 9), Deborah Koliche, Laurie Smith, Theresa Thibodeau, Marcie Conley, William Kelley, Sandra Nisbet, Lisa Doughty, Jay Walsh and Jolan Ippolito (training facilitator); Back-Jerri-Lyn Vaillancourt; absent when photo taken-Nancy McPherson]

[Bryant Hoffman and Keri Oburn (River Valley Chamber administrator) in conversation]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sabre Yachts receives Polaris Award from Compass Project

Sabre Yachts, a world-class boat builder in Raymond, Maine has received the annual Polaris Award given by The Compass Project, for it's support of their youth boat building programs. The Compass Project according to its website, is an experiential program that teaches job training and life skills through boat building and rowing. Since, 2002 more than 750 elementary, middle, and high school youth from the Greater Portland area have worked in teams to learn the very difficult task of building boats. A majority of the students have improved their grades and take much pride in learning these new skills. Check out the website of this fantastic program.

Since 1971, Sabre Yachts has been crafting high quality sailboats and motor yachts and have won many awards for their craftsmanship. According to the website, "Our boats combine cutting-edge design and fabrication with skills derived from the boat building tradition that has been alive in Maine since the 16th century. The quality of our boats and the skill of our craftsmen and women are without equal in the boating industry. The company tenet "Crafted In The Maine Tradition" signifies the principles that we at Sabre live by: Quality, Value, Craftsmanship and Tradition." Check out the videos on Sabre's website that detail their building process.

The Compass Project and Sabre Yachts are continuing to build the world-class tradition of Maine boat building. These are the kind of collaborations that can build a strong workforce for an important Maine industry.

Monday, April 14, 2008

College and job-skills for Franklin County

In Franklin County, Maine, a group of local leaders has brought community college classes and jobs skills training to their area, giving residents new opportunities to qualify for good jobs and higher expectations for their futures. It is also providing employers—and prospective employers—with a new supply of well-educated workers.

The Franklin County Community College Network is one aspect of a model of collaboration that seems to work well for this remote rural county, located in western Maine.

The 21st century hasn't been kind to places like Franklin County, as the area has dealt with downturns in longtime industries employing generations in the production of shoes, paper, lumber, toothpicks, croquet sets, and other wood products. The county has one of Maine’s highest unemployment rates and lowest median household income levels. Tourists come to Franklin County to ski and visit expensive vacation homes, but rarely catch more than a glimpse of the telltale signs of poverty — worn mobile homes, boarded up factories, struggling shops.

The Franklin County Community College Network (or "The Network" for short) provides an important catalyst, promoting educational opportunities and eliminating obstacles and barriers that in the past may have prevented many in the area from accessing, or even considering college as an option.

I've been part of this network for about a year and I'm really excited about the possibilities this could mean to Franklin County.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has taken notice of these efforts, recognizing that this network is so much more than just college classes, as the area now is bringing industry-based training courses, like the one partnering with the Cianbro Corporation, a Maine company, needing trained welders to build boats. A 160-hour welding course was created that will lead to full-time jobs at Cianbro for successful graduates. Even better, the company is paying residents to take the course.

"We said ‘We have people who are unemployed. We’ll work with you to help train them,’” recalls Ray Therrien, an adult education director in southern Franklin County.

To read the rest of this excellent article that happens to get rural culture right, for a change, visit the website and click on the View PDF link.

To read a blog post from Maine's "PR Maven" about some marketing work that yours truly is involved in with this Franklin County group, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mind Your Own Business: Helping Teens Develop an Entrepreneurial Spirit

According to the "Mind Your Own Business" website, did you know that of the nearly 26 million businesses in the U.S., all but 17,000 are considered to be "small"? 89% of American employer firms have less than 20 employees. So, if you are not an entrepreneur most people still work in small businesses. Also, according to a recent Junior Achievement poll, 70.9% of teenagers said they want to be their own boss someday.

I ran into the "Mind Your Own Business" website doing some research on small businesses and entrepreneurship. The U.S. Small Business Administration and Junior Achievement have partnered to create this great website to help young people turn their entrepreneurial ideas into reality. This site is for both people with experience in entrepreneurship or just starting out. There are many resources on this website and it is divided into five easy steps of Exploring, Deciding, Building, Connecting, and Succeeding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides many resources, free programs, and counseling to small businesses. Junior Achievement is a volunteer organization that brings community leaders into classrooms to teach community based exercises to young children.

Opportunity Maine: Making College More Affordable in Maine

Opportunity Maine is a great new program for Maine students in post-secondary programs of all kinds. Starting in January 2008 students will be eligible to claim a large tax credit to help pay student loans after they graduate. Businesses are also eligible for the tax credit if they agree to pay a student's loan. There are very few restrictions and it is very easy process that you can start on their website. If you choose to work after graduation you must work and pay taxes in Maine. There are no restrictions to stay in Maine if a student decides to pursue graduate school or programs like the Peace Corps or Teach For America.

This initiative, according to the Opportunity Maine website, was only the sixth time in Maine history that a Citizen's Initiative was signed into law. The initiative started has just an idea of a few students and community leaders. Ultimately, through a tremendous grassroots effort the initiative was signed into law. With this initiative on the books it may be a great way to entice businesses to Maine and to continue to develop the workforce that businesses need to be successful. To enroll, just go the website.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

2008 Mid-Maine B2B Showcase

[ Sharon , from MaineGeneral Medical Center]

[Capital Area Staffing Services were busy greeting attendees]

The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce hosted their 2008 Business to Business Showcase, in Waterville, at the Grandeur Sun, just off KMD. With 50 plus businesses present, as well as other community organizations like the United Way on site, it was a worthwhile opportunity to put my network skills to work.

For those of you in Southern Maine, or anyone else that hasn’t spent time in Waterville lately, it might be easy to overlook this community on your way north or south on the interstate. To do so is a mistake. If you only jump off I-95 to gas up, you’ve only seen the remnants of 1960s urban renewal (aka, President Johnson’s attempt to destroy vibrant downtowns) on Kennedy Memorial Drive. However, if you drive into downtown, you’ll find a downtown area that is walkable and has some nice restaurants.

I’ve been impressed with the energy and passion of Kim Lindlof, the President of the Mid-Maine Chamber, as well as John Butera, from the Central Maine Growth Council. Both of them have been pushing for a WorkReady in Waterville and it looks good that this will happen in the fall.

One of the ways that I judge the potential of a community is the vibrancy of its business community. Waterville has a vibrant one that is willing to roll up its sleeves and do what’s necessary to reinvigorate their local economy that has struggled of late. Hathaway Shirts and other traditional employers have gone away. Manufacturing is still present with Huhtamaki, Mid-State Machine (across the river in Winslow) and others firms, however. Additionally, First Park in Oakland has a great deal of potential for future growth and both Inland Hospital and MaineGeneral provide a vibrant healthcare presence and economic anchor and don't forget Colby College, up on Mayflower Hill.

[92 Moose was in the house!]

[Irene and Kimberley from the Augusta CareerCenter]

[Inland Hospital encouraging people to make healthy choices by playing their health-oriented Wheel of Fortune]

There were several afternoon seminars. Unfortunately, I think I picked the most depressing one. Dr. John Mahon, from the University of Maine/Maine Business School gave a presentation titled, The Maine Economy: Up? Down? Or Out? While Dr. Mahon had a wealth of data that showed that Maine has some real issues to contend with, like its aging population, out-migration of young people, low wages, high energy costs and a host of other factors that paint a bleak picture, I fear that he left his audience clinging to a precipice, waiting to plunge into the ravine below—he left them with no prospects of what can we do? While reality checks are nice, I don't think anyone walked out of his seminar feeling very hopeful about the area's prospects.

To be fair, he did say the state needs to focus on creating value-added industries; precision manufacturing, instead of merely welding; eco-tourism, not just lodging; composites, not just lumber; financial services, not just banking. He also mentioned that we need a governor that leaves Maine every Sunday and visits CEO’s in the other 49 states, touting our state, our workforce and our quality of life. Mahon said that CEO’s want to talk with governors, not economic development people. It will take time and “the governor will run up a lot of frequent flyer miles,” but according to Mahon that’s what it will take. I wish he would have not cut his time so tight and had more input from the floor, as there was time for only two questions, before the next seminar had to begin.

I think that what we’re trying to do as a workforce board in Central/Western Maine, to develop a skilled/educated workforce, rich in middle-skills and beyond, is a cause for hope in our area and the direction we need to go as a state. Our efforts around TDL and developing a potential WIRED model has great potential in Lewiston/Auburn and I think, also Waterville. Unfortunately, I'm not sure many in Augusta are aware of these efforts. Other than the steady drumbeat of cries for tax reduction, there seems to be little else being talked about. Nothing would do more for this state than jobs paying living wages, workers engaged in meaningful work, buying new cars, houses and other durable goods. Too little conversation is heard about revenue generation.

Hats off to Kim and her staff for creating a very worthwhile event. I look forward to having the opportunity to work in her Mid-Maine communities in the near future.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Getting, taking (and giving)

I like smart, creative people--they help me learn new things and push me to be better. If you aren't striving to get better at what you do, ask yourself "why not?"

Seth Godin's a smart guy and I try to swing by his blog from time to time to see what he's blogging about.

This post, from the end of March talks about getting vs. taking.

Most people spend a lot of time to get an education.

They wait for the teacher (hopefully a great one) to give them something of value.

Many employees do the same thing at work. They wait for a boss (hopefully a great one) to give them responsibility or authority or experiences that add up to a career.

A few people, not many, but a few, take. They take the best education they can get, pushing teachers for more, finding things to do, exploring non-defined niches. They take more courses than the minimum, they invent new projects and they show up with questions.

A few people, not many, take opportunities at work. Marketers have the easiest time of this (sort of hard to commandeer the chain saw) but don't do it nearly as often as they should.

What have you taken today?

Good blogs create interactivity (like comments). One of the comments that sprang from Seth's post was this one (via Digg, by Ingeme), which I'll also include;

Less is More – Promise less; deliver more. More, more, and more seems to be the byword in our culture. The attitude that more is always better permeates so many facets of our society. Taller is better, increases in contacts, cold calls, customers, and sales volume, to mention a few topics motivate so many in sales. However, quality is not necessarily associated with more of anything. The point is that going for the largest bite of everything does not guarantee long term success; satisfying and profitable business relationships are based on building quality service and interactions. The loudest voice makes noise that can be deafening, while a well moderated demeanor keyed into hearing and observing the needs and wants of the sales prospect will win in the final analysis.

Murray Lederman, a very successful Boston businessman taught me to “Promise less and deliver more”.

Although gone now, Murray remains alive in the sales and management wisdom he imparted to those with whom he conducted business. Listen, learn, think, produce and execute. Do this consistently and you will experience satisfying and profitable results.

Give something of yourself; pour some passion into your task at hand. Try it and see if you can make it part of what you do.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Making promises to our children

There are a variety of thoughts and opinions about how we should proceed in developing our workforce, particularly at the state and national levels. Far too often, the basic needs of local business are overlooked and worse, longer-term strategic requirements are not factored in. As a result, companies that would hire additional workers and pay them a living wage, can’t find the kind of skills that they require.

What motivates me each and every day, in my position as a workforce professional, is a much more basic standard—each and every person should be given the opportunity to maximize their human potential and access work that flows from that.

One organization that seems to support this very basic, but powerful standard is America’s Promise Alliance. Their Five Promises lend an organic foundation to what I see as part of workforce development and would go a long way towards providing our nation with a workforce that would be second to none.

Here are a few thoughts of my own, tied to each one of the Allliances’ promises.

Promise 1 Caring Adults

All children need support and guidance from caring adults in their families, at schools and in their communities. These include ongoing, secure relationships with parents as well as formal and informal relationships with teachers, mentors, coaches, youth volunteers and neighbors.

It really does take a village to raise a child. If you look at a time in America when our youth were flourishing, it was a time when the community-at-large played a key role in supporting parents. Examples of this can be found in the volunteerism that was prevalent during the 1950s and 1960s and is all too often lacking in our communities today. For those interested in the contrast between then and now, may I recommend an excellent book by Alan Ehrenhalt, The Lost City: Discovering the Forgotten Values of Community in America.

Promise 2 Safe Places

All children need to be physically and emotionally safe wherever they are — from the actual places of families, schools, neighborhoods and communities to the virtual places of media. They also need a healthy balance between structured, supervised activities and unstructured time.

One of the great dangers facing children today is that they don’t have a chance to be children anymore. All too often, even children that have intact families are forced to participant in far too many activities, whether it be sports travel teams, overly structured programs in dance, theater and other very worthwhile activities. Children need downtown where they can read, play and experience the outdoors.

Two excellent books worth reading about what constitutes a safe healthy environment for children would be the late Neil Postman’s book, The Disappearance of Childhood and a book I read during the fall, Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Postman makes a provocative case that that technology, rather than being the solution for all our problems, has not liberated but infantilized society, putting a frame around modern problems of education, child-raising, and loss of meaning.

Promise 3 A Healthy Start

All children need and deserve healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthful habits. These result from regular health check-ups and needed treatment, good nutrition and exercise, healthy skills and knowledge, and good role models of physical and psychological health.

The U.S. continues to fall behind the rest of the developed world in issues pertaining to childhood health. Too often, where one lives determines the level of healthcare they receive. Not receiving adequate healthcare is an economic issue in this country and affects large portions of people within our state.

Health Affairs a health policy journal has a blog. Brian Smedley’s post on March 12 addresses some of the costs associated with not ensuring a healthy start for children.

Promise 4 An Effective Education

All children need the intellectual development, motivation and skills that equip them for successful work and lifelong learning. These result from having quality learning environments, challenging expectations and consistent guidance and mentoring.

Education is a major concern in the work we do on the workforce side. There are certainly things we can do to better prepare our young people for the world of work. There are models that are effective and hopefully, legislators and policymakers can put aside partisan differences and work together to make sure the U.S. is competitive throughout this century.

Promise 5 Opportunities to Help Others

All children need the chance to make a difference in their families, at schools and in their communities. Knowing how to make a difference comes from having models of caring behavior, awareness of the needs of others, a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger society, and opportunities for volunteering, leadership and service.

Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone highlighted the demise of social capital and the consequent issues associated with this. Putnam and Lewis Feldstein collaborated on an update to Putnam’s earlier book, offering a much more optimistic view of examples where social capital is at work.
Better Together: Restoring the American Community offers a dozen case studies of what can be done when communities come together around a common purpose.

Workforce development is focused on all segments of our population, young and old, displaced workers and those lacking essential skills. Our youngest citizens, however, is where our future lies and these five promises are a great starting point to focus our energies and resources on. It is my hope that our nation will once again make investments in all its people, not just the interests of a privileged few, as the trend has been for the last eight years, or more.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Training options for businesses

While many large companies have their own training departments, in state’s like Maine, where many businesses fall under the umbrella of “small business,” how are these companies able to upgrade the skills of their incumbent workers, or train for entry level positions?

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal Online’s Small Link section, written by Simona Covel, there are government options out there that can assist in the area of training.

Covel’s article indicates that there is government funding available to businesses, the challenge is tracking it down. This is often the dilemma that small business owners face—awareness that they need to do something—but lacking the time and resources to get to that place.

What I found encouraging about Covel’s tack in her article, is that she obviously has some awareness of workforce development, which seems to be a rare commodity among many journalists, particularly those covering our own state.

  • USDOL’s Business Relations Group (phone: 202-693-3949; email:
  • DECD (Maine’s own economic development organization; 207-624-9800)
  • The Local Workforce Investment Board (In Central/Western ME; 207-753-9026)
  • Maine’s Community Colleges

    In our region, we’ve partnered with members of the business community to run WorkReady™ trainings, Next Steps programs, as well as being a partner in the NorthStar Alliance, carrying out the WIRED model for workforce/economic development.

    So far, these initiatives have been successful and we continue to push the envelope, hoping to build on the success of these programs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Speed really does matter

High-speed broadband is essential for global competitiveness, in our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.

Countries like Canada, Sweden, and South Korea have better, faster Internet connections. People in Japan can download an entire movie in just two minutes; that same movie can take two hours or more in the United States. Yet, people in Japan pay the same as we do in the U.S. for their Internet connection.

All too many Americans encounter a significant digital divide based on income and geography. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), two-thirds (62 percent) of Americans who earn over $100,000 a year have broadband, but only 11 percent of households that earn less than $30,000 a year subscribe. Only one-quarter of middle-income families earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year subscribe to broadband. The GAO also found a significant urban/rural gap. While 29 percent of urban households and 28 percent of rural households subscribe to broadband, only 17 percent of rural households do.

Locally, there are wide disparities in high-speed internet access; amazingly, the only affordable internet option for most residents living in the heart of downtown Lewiston, is unreliable and mostly useless, dial-up access. Rural Maine isn’t any better. I am fortunate where I live in Durham, to be able to obtain high-speed access via my cable provider, but this is not inexpensive.

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote high-speed broadband. There are a number of bold but specific steps that the U.S. should take to recover our lost leadership and competitive position to ensure that all residents benefit from affordable, high-speed Internet access.

Fairpoint recently closed on its deal acquiring Verizon Communications’ 1.7 million landlines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Among FairPoint's commitments made to northern New England during the approval process, is an expansion of broadband Internet access availability. This is essential if the northern regions of New England are going to participate in economic revitalization.

A study just released by PolEcon Research found rural communities without access to broadband had just under 1 percent growth in private sector jobs compared to nearly 6 percent private sector job growth for rural communities with broadband access.

This is an important state and national issue and one that warrants the attention of policymakers and members of both the state legislature, as well as members of our national delegation. In fact, it might be much more important than the incessant drumbeat coming from some quarters about taxes.

FMI information about this subject, check out the Speed Matters report, produced by the Communications Workers of America, an organization that supports affordable high-speed internet for all.

Building our future workforce, one program at a time

[WorkReady graduates-Front (L-R): Danielle Ellsworth, Tony Willette, Star Cunningham, Jackolin Gessner, Stacey Griffin; Rear (L-R): Joe Hayes/training facilitator, Aaron Young, Karena Knowles, Bobby Young, Samantha Waterhouse, Amanda Baxter, Jennifer Winkley, Scott Keister/computer instructor]

[Training facilitator, Joe Hayes, addressing graduates]

[Joe Hayes, Jackolin Gessner and Star Cunningham, enjoying a festive moment at Friday's graduation ceremony]

In light of an article that appeared in this morning’s Portland Press Herald, about Maine’s incomes lagging the rest of the nation, I wanted to share a few thoughts about why the workforce board, here in Central/Western Maine, is on the right path, in my opinion. Also, I want to share why I’m so passionate about the work that I’m privileged to be part of, in the arena of workforce development and in particular, my involvement with programs like the WorkReady™ Credential program and Next Steps training.

On Friday, I attended the graduation ceremony for the inaugural WorkReady™ pilot in Augusta, held at Capital Area Technical Center. Eleven trainees received credentials, signifying their successful completion of the WorkReady™ curriculum and its components. This training also included an additional 20 hours of computer applications, in addition to the 60 hours of soft skills that the curriculum is oriented towards. This program is the first one to include workplace computer applications as part of receiving the credential.

In the Press Herald article, by Edward Murphy titled, “Mainer’s personal incomes lag behind the nation,” our state ranked 41st in income growth in 2007, after ranking finishing 46th in this area in 2006, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

For Christopher (Kit) St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, it’s pretty simple why Maine’s income growth has stagnated.

“The rewards in the national economy have been to the high end," said St. John, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy. "We don't have the high end.”

Maine’s aging population is part of the issue, as retirees, living on fixed incomes, drag down income figures. Also, compounding the issue is the loss of jobs in sectors like manufacturing, which pays well and the replacement of living wage jobs with low-wage service sector employment. This also leads to the downward spiral of decreased tax revenue, leading to budget shortfalls and the attendant legislative hand wringing and finger-pointing that’s accompanied the current budget cycle.

I’m not really interested in hand wringing, or finger-pointing. What I am interested in is taking perfectly capable, eligible members of our workforce and helping them maximize their potential. There is no greater loss to Maine and our nation, than someone wallowing in low-wage, low-skill work, becoming increasingly beaten down, losing their spark and eventually, just giving up.

In my opinion, WorkReady™ is the foundational first step towards re-invigorating someone’s quest for meaningful employment. By establishing a firm platform upon which additional employer-specific training can be added to, it is possible to take someone who has been stuck in the psychic spiral that accompanies dead-end employment, without sufficient wages and lacking benefits and jumpstart their work life and offer them hope again.

What I found exciting about Friday’s graduation and the group of trainees that completed WorkReady™, is that they have been prepared, on the front end, with the foundational job skills that will allow them to access jobs that can be part of a career ladder. With additional training, programs through Maine’s Community College System, or pursuing a four-year degree program, these graduates of WorkReady have access to pathways for future success.

While WorkReady™ continues to gain support among employers, there are still many that know nothing about the program, particularly in regions beyond the five counties served by our organization. I continue to market the program to as many groups and individual employers as I can. My recent Op-ed, about the importance of middle-skills for Maine is another area that I’m becoming more active with—lobbying about our long-term strategy in our region. In fact, I think that what is being proposed here in Central/Western Maine is a model for consideration in other areas of the state.

We’ll continue to battle, here in Central/Western Maine, attempting to push our agenda forward. We also welcome the opportunity to be included at the table in conversations that are taking place, about Maine’s future, as workforce development needs to be part of any long-range strategic vision for the future of the state.