For the past several years, the hot term in workforce development circles has been "WIRED.” In this case, WIRED doesn’t mean too much coffee or a fast Internet connection. Instead, it refers to a new way of thinking about regional economic and workforce development.
WIRED stands for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development and refers to a three-year-old Department of Labor program that has invested more than $400 million in 39 regional projects across the U.S. These projects are quite diverse, and include efforts to stimulate boat building in Maine, to promote green energy in Montana, and to promote entrepreneurship in California. Nearly all of the 39 regional projects include heavy participation from community colleges, many of which are NACCE members.
WIRED has been a key part of the Bush Administration’s efforts to promote demand-driven workforce programs. Using this approach, workforce development agencies and other training organizations have been pushed and provided incentives to build closer partnerships with their customers, i.e. businesses. Other related programs include the Community Based Jobs Training program grants. WIRED was designed to push this model at the regional level–to integrate workforce, education, and economic development agencies in a collaborative campaign to transform regional economies.
It’s hard to quibble with this objective. Regional economic transformation is a bipartisan goal. Yet, because of the WIRED program’s roots in the Bush Administration, it’s unlikely that a Democratic Congress will authorize new WIRED grants–regardless of who prevails in this year’s elections. Nonetheless, NACCE members would be well advised to keep an eye on WIRED projects and the overall WIRED concept. Even if the specific WIRED program is not reauthorized, the basic principles underlying it will likely drive future Federal workforce and economic development funding programs. New programs might have new names, but they will share a lot of similarities with WIRED.
Several core concepts will remain in place. First, collaboration will be required in all new projects. Initiatives that are designed and implemented by a single organization will be discouraged. Today’s economic development challenges are complex and multi-organizational solutions are needed. Second, regions will become the key organizing entities for future Federal investments. A state or county or city is a political entity; a region is an economic entity. And, economic development strategies need to be organized around natural economic units, i.e. regions. Finally, innovation will be the sine qua non of Federal economic development programs. Simply creating jobs will not be enough. Programs will need to help nurture and expand innovation. These innovations need not be solely focused on high tech, but they need to help promote and grow new entrepreneurial ventures in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.
The good news about this change in perspective is that it aligns well with the perspective shared by NACCE members. We have always been about collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship. It’s good to see that Washington is ready to join the movement too!
I welcome any feedback or ideas you might have on NACCE’s unique role, perspectives, and potential influence on key public policy issues. Send all comments and perspectives to me at firstname.lastname@example.org