Chancellor & CEO, Pima Community College
What are some of the ways you have seen collaboration between the various economic development partners improve over the last several years?
The sea change in the way Pima Community College does business is reflected in the deepening connections between our Workforce Development unit and Sun Corridor Inc., the City of Tucson, Pima County and the region’s other municipalities. WFD is regularly invited by Sun Corridor and other entities to take part in discussions with businesses seeking to relocate or expand in Pima County, and to support those efforts through tours of our facilities, data and customized solutions.
For example, we have been at the table with the autonomous vehicle manufacturer TuSimple throughout their expansion in Tucson, and our long-term partnership has resulted in a first-in-the-nation Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate that will allow truck drivers to successfully transition to the coming era of autonomous vehicles. Similarly, our participation in the initiative that brought Caterpillar Inc. to Tucson has led to the creation of our Applied Technology Academy in which Caterpillar engineers augment their theoretical training by getting their hands dirty in our machining and welding labs.
What are some issues that you think need more or better collaboration and how would you begin to address those?
Our region needs to make a concerted effort to move forward on existing comprehensive, far-reaching economic development plans such as the Pivot Playbook. Moreover, we need to ensure optimization of existing taxpayer-funded infrastructure, such as the Centers of Excellence that have been completed or are being constructed at several College campuses. These Centers will expand the region’s capacity to provide skilled workers that businesses can rely upon as they expand or relocate in Tucson.
In addition, we need to bring to the attention of business the need for the federal government to change Pell Grants and other student aid programs to fund tuition for short-term non-credit training credentials.
Two of the top focus areas in the Pivot Playbook recovery plan are infrastructure and talent acquisition. Within those two focus areas, what are the most pressing issues for your organization and what can your organization do to address those?
The topline data regarding employment is encouraging – the state’s jobless rate is at a historic low. But if you dig a little deeper, another story emerges. Labor participation rates in Arizona are low to a degree that can’t be explained by the number of retirees in the state. In Tucson, the labor participation rate also is below the national average. That is a drag on our economic growth.
The challenge for the region is to move these non-participants back into the labor market by providing them with the skills that employers need to keep their business thriving. We need to maximize the existing infrastructure in place, such as our Centers of Excellence. And we need to find ways to incentivize employers to provide work-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships, through tuition reimbursement and other means.