More than 650 business, education and public sector leaders gathered at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Green Bay on Dec. 6 for New North Live! – the 10th annual review of the 18-county collaboration on building a strong regional economy in northeast Wisconsin. The overarching theme for the event was the importance of preparing today for the workforce of tomorrow.
Keynote speaker Ed Gordon offered both his congratulations and a challenge to this region as he described “winning the race for talent.” Gordon, owner of the Chicago-based Imperial Consulting Corporation and author of the newly-published “Future Jobs: Solving the Employment and Skills Crisis,” was also the main speaker at the 2007 New North Summit held in Sheboygan.
He was impressed enough by the region’s collaborative efforts to train workers that he included New North as one of a dozen examples in his new book.
“I travel all over the world dealing with workforce development, and what you’ve achieved here in the last few years is very impressive,” Gordon told the crowd. “The reason New North is in ‘Future Jobs’ is because of the progress you’ve made in the last six years. You have established what I call a ‘regional talent innovation network’ – a RETAIN.”
RETAINs, according to Gordon, are regional, cross-sector, public-private partnerships that involve parents and students, business, labor, educators and government to focus on preparing today’s students to be tomorrow’s workers, and today’s workers to connect with resources for lifelong learning.
Gordon cited organizations like the NEW Manufacturing Alliance and the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Alliance as examples of how the culture around job acquisition and retention is changing. At the same time, he challenged the region to continue to think creatively about ways to train the workforce of the future. As technology rapidly advances and as baby boomers retire in record numbers, “we will need more Americans – well educated and well skilled Americans – in the workplace, and we don’t have them.
“Skills are the new currency of this decade,” Gordon continued. “Companies can locate anywhere in the world today. They’re going to locate where there’s a workforce with the right skills at the right time to meet their needs so they can compete.”
A panel discussion moderated by New North co-chair Kathi Seifert showcased some key examples of current progress.
For example, Steve Baue, vice president of human resources at Marinette Marine Corporation, and Jim Golembeski, executive director
of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, discussed the challenges of adding 500 employees, mostly in skilled trades, in about nine months when Marinette Marine was awarded a major contract from the U.S. Navy to produce littoral combat ships. Baue praised the collaborative efforts of organizations like the Workforce Development Board, the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.
“I’ve had the opportunity to live across the U.S. and have worked abroad, and I’ve never seen the concentration of resources like we have here in Northeast Wisconsin,” Baue said. “We’re rewriting the definition of what it means to be in manufacturing, and what it means to have a rewarding career.”
Gov. Scott Walker, who has identified developing the Wisconsin workforce as one of his top priorities, attended the summit for the third time. In a question-and-answer session moderated by New North executive director Jerry Murphy and co-chair Bob DeKoch, Walker discussed the new production tax credits for both manufacturing and agriculture, the importance of and opportunities for exporting Wisconsin products, and state efforts to provide additional worker training to deal with the skills gap.
A number of breakout sessions, opportunities to network, and the traditional Taste of New North luncheon featuring food samples from some of the region’s restaurants and businesses helped round out the day.
First-time attendee Brian Bourgeois, human resources and employee development manager for ChemDesign of Marinette, said the event was time well spent.
“They hit on a lot of ideas that are really dear to us,” Bourgeois said. “It reaffirms what we’ve been thinking, that we’re on the right track. And it gives you the spark that says, ‘we can do something … we have to get more involved.’”