Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Appalachian Advantage

If you don't think Pittsburgh is part of Appalachia, then travel a few miles west to East Liverpool, Ohio. There you'll find NewLife Technical Institute and Newbold Technologies. The story of that community's economic transformation is a shining example of innovative approaches to workforce development:

In returning to East Liverpool, Craig's goal was to create jobs by developing a successful industry in the area. When an economy is based predominately on one industry, and that industry goes away, a community needs to reinvent itself. That's exactly what Craig set out to do with East Liverpool. He is working to transform Ohio's "Rust Belt" into the "Tech Belt" of America.

To create tech jobs in a traditionally manufacturing-heavy region, Craig determined that he would need to train residents that have an aptitude for software development. He started a non-profit school, the NewLife Technical Institute, which pairs seasoned IT professionals with students to teach them about software development and computer systems. In addition to learning core technical skills, students of the Institute also learn "soft" skills, which enable them to succeed in the customer-service-heavy IT world.

Newbold set out to foster the talent he needed to leverage the geographic arbitrage assets of Northern Appalachia. The result is a low-cost, highly-skilled workforce that is beginning to pay dividends. Hence President Obama's trip to Youngstown:

The last time President Obama came to our area, it was to visit the GM Lordstown Complex, where a third shift had been added in order to manufacture the Chevy Cruze, a fuel-efficient vehicle that will be distributed across the country. GM invested $350 million in the Lordstown facility to make way for an additional 1,200 jobs – good paying jobs that are expected to provide an additional $47 million in payroll, generate $470,000 in local income taxes and $1.4 million in state income taxes.

These two projects represent just a small portion of nearly $1.5 billion in investments generated recently in Ohio’s 17th District – strategic investments that will create over 5,000 local jobs and retain thousands more. From Revere Data moving jobs from India to downtown Youngstown, to the new Bridgestone-Firestone Tech Center in Akron and the Kent Central Gateway in Portage County, to the opportunities presented by our region’s close proximity to the extensive Marcellus Shale field – it is clear that our local economic development strategy is working.

Revere Data is emblematic of the onshoring occurring in the region. The company is headquartered in San Francisco with offices in New York and Youngstown. That's a wow moment. San Francisco, New York and Youngstown. Securing talent to staff the remote outpost wasn't a problem. If anything, there were too many qualified applicants. There is still a surplus of the highly-skilled.

The talent glut exists throughout Northern Appalachia. The labor market encourages those with college degrees to go elsewhere in search of a greater salary. Furthermore, companies could bank on experienced expatriates returning and in dire need of a job.

That's daunting for recent graduates thinking about moving to the TechBelt. However, this demographic tends to be strategically under-employed. These educated vagrants are starting to show up in Pittsburgh. The talent pool continues to get deeper when most other places are struggling to find the right workers for job openings.

Pittsburgh is the "skilled-anchor" for Northern Appalachia. Back to Craig Newbold:

Additionally, Appalachia's access to knowledge and labor has tremendously helped Craig. He easily found experienced teachers with phenomenal work experience for his school. Ready access to knowledge in East Liverpool has also been especially helpful to Craig. Since East Liverpool is close to a number of nationally ranked institutes of higher education, his employees and company can easily draw from the learning resources, like research and development, made available by local universities.

East Liverpool is taking advantage of its proximity to Pittsburgh. Such a strategy is rare in the parochial Rust Belt. The neglected backwaters of Ohio don't have a choice. The big cities receive all the attention. The shortage of resources has spurred innovation in economic development. The result is an embarrassment of riches that the rest of the world is beginning to rediscover.

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