Growth & Opportunity is about growing the economy in ways that create more opportunities for all people through collaborative, interconnected cross-sector strategies that advance job creation, job preparation and job access.
The Fund for Our Economic Future's framework for how to take a collaborative approach to building stronger, more equitable local and regional economies through job creation, job preparation and job access efforts.
Conexus Launches with Mission to Better Connect Job Seekers, Employers
Sue Lacy is on cloud nine. She should be. As head of the
Sue Lacy, president of Conexus
new Summit County talent initiative Conexus, her efforts to revamp the old Summit Workforce Solutions, along with the help of the Fund for Our Economic Future and many others, have been receiving much media praise since its launch on March 15. But the attention, while helpful in spreading the word and drumming up interest from potential new partners, isn't the whole point. By all accounts, the collaboration among businesses, public schools, education and training organizations, nonprofits, and others that grew out of a review of the talent needs of Summit County, is working as intended.
Conexus -- like its name suggests -- is about connecting work to prosperity. Its purpose is to create a demand-driven, data-informed talent system in Summit County. How does it do this? First, Conexus partners with companies to identify high-demand skills and occupations by reviewing and discussing reliable labor market data. This often brings competitors together to develop strategies that build a talent pipeline the entire community can access. Education and training partners engage with companies to align curriculum to prepare career seekers for the skills most needed, and community partners help career seekers get on the right path and address barriers.
The data also identify and inform actions that can have the biggest impact on system outcomes. Cross-sector networks, including the Summit County Manufacturing Network, TalentNEO (a skills-based hiring pilot), and TechHire (a White House initiative to establish accelerated IT skills training that leads to full-time jobs) are the primary point of engagement for stakeholders. Conexus helps partners develop a common language, shared goals and aligned strategies that help companies be more competitive and residents access a sustainable living wage. In other words,
Conexus is about creating both Growth & Opportunity.
That sounds like a tall order. But the nonprofit already has engaged dozens of companies that are guiding Conexus' strategy; it has strong public sector support from leaders, including Summit County Council President Ilene Shapiro, County Executive Russ Pry and Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan; and it is helping educators and community organizations, including Akron Public Schools, Stark State University, University of Akron, and the United Way of Summit County, take actions to better meet the demands of the talent market.
How does Lacy summarize its formula for success? "We are informed, agile and deeply committed to generating results," she said.
The Fund for Our Economic Future and its Summit-based members, including GAR Foundation and the Akron Community Foundation, helped catalyze the formation of Conexus by paying for an assessment of the talent development system in Summit County, and then coordinating a process led by County Executive Pry that engaged cross-sector leaders to identify how to improve the performance of the system. Chris Thompson, director of regional engagement for the Fund, coordinated that process and continues to provide assistance to Conexus' leadership. The launch of Conexus is part of the Fund's G&O: Akron initiative, funded in part by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Read more about Conexus on the Fund's blog.
From the Blogosphere
"Skills for Growth: Beyond the Low-Hanging Fruit"
Pete Carlson of Regional Growth Strategies forewarns against going after the low-hanging fruit of existing jobs, and challenges those working in job preparation to consider how demand-driven systems can actually spur the growth of new jobs. (We'd argue Conexus is actively working to do just that.) Read more about how to meet this challenge on his blog.
New Findings Support Need for Growth & Opportunity
Recent reports highlighting concentrated poverty and distress in the U.S. and calling for new approaches to economic development are garnering much-deserved attention.
The latest report comes from the Brookings Institution. Researchers Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes find that
"in the post-recession period alone, the nation added more than 1,300 extremely poor neighborhoods (census tracts with poverty rates of 40 percent or more) ... The sobering reality is that today, most poor people in the United States (56 percent) now live in a high-poverty or extremely poor neighborhood." See where your metro ranked here, and read The Plain Dealer's take on the report here.
Speaking of Brookings ... In
Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution calls for civic leaders to "remake economic development" to consider prosperity for all.
her recent call to remake economic development and achieve robust and enduring prosperity, Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution implores civic and business leaders to embrace inclusion in their economic strategies. In this Harvard Business Review piece, Liu points to a fascinating recent survey of Harvard Business School alumni that found that 71 percent of respondents felt their business had been harmed by rising inequality, growing poverty or limited economic mobility, and more than two-thirds believed addressing these issues mattered more than promoting economic growth.
And if you haven't yet, it's worth spending some time scanning the Economic Innovation Group's Distressed Communities Index, which ranked Cleveland the most distressed big city in the U.S. Access the full report here.
These reports are a kick in the gut, for sure, but also stark proof that Growth & Opportunity and integrated approaches to job creation, job preparation and job access are needed now more than ever.
In the News
Gund Foundation Invests in Early-stage Funds
The George Gund Foundation recently approved a slate of funding to boost early-stage capital in Northeast Ohio, including $3.25 million to support ESP III, the third fund of
Early Stage Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm founded in 2001.
Jim Petras, co-founder along with the late Jamie Ireland, and general partner of Early Stage Partners, said, "we are confident that The George Gund Foundation leadership will serve as a needed catalyst to generate other important commitments. We hope the Gund's vote of confidence will create momentum and build upon the strong regional support and significant gains we've made over the last decade in developing and financing our region's entrepreneurs."
Gund trustees also approved a $750,000 loan to
JumpStart that will be used to capitalize its NEXT Fund, as well as a five-year $250,000 loan to JumpStart's
Growth Opportunity Partners Inc., which
works with small businesses to create meaningful-wage jobs, paying particular attention to low-income urban neighborhoods and economically disadvantaged rural areas.
"The NEXT Fund is designed to address the critical need for more early-stage investment capital in Ohio so that homegrown tech startups can continue to thrive here," said JumpStart CEO Ray Leach. "We also created Growth Opportunity Partners because we believe there is an incredible opportunity to work with a more diverse group of small businesses, which are so important to our economy but may be unable to access traditional bank financing."
"It is utterly important that institutions, companies and individuals step up and support our community's early-stage funds to ensure there is sufficient capital to fuel growth," said Robert Jaquay, associate director of The George Gund Foundation. "Notably, these investments by the Gund Foundation signal our commitment to not only entrepreneurial activity and economic growth, but to increasing opportunity for all."
JPMorgan Launches $125M Effort to Support Economically Distressed Neighborhoods
JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced April 5, that it would devote $125 million over five years to support economically distressed neighborhoods around the country. The new initiative will have three areas of focus: collaborative community development financial institutions (CDFIs) partnerships; affordable housing seed capital; and data-driven neighborhood solutions. To read more about the effort, click here.
Regional Workforce Development Forum
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board will host the 2016 Regional Workforce Development Forum at Cuyahoga Community College's Corporate College East campus in Warrensville Heights, Ohio, on June 1.
The daylong forum will provide attendees with a comprehensive picture of Northeast Ohio's labor market informed by recent data and applied research, as well as a look at successful programs from both inside and outside the region that address workforce needs. Attendees will also have an opportunity to participate in the development of the regional workforce plan.
Workforce development practitioners, municipal leaders, funders, and researchers are encouraged to attend. Participation is free, but you must register to reserve your spot.
Please Save the Date ...
For the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's Biennial Reinventing Our Communities Conference
When: September 21-23, 2016
Where: Hilton Philadelphia at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia