Ham(m)er Time!: Workers migrate to where the jobs are, employers migrate to where the workers are

If you’re looking to understand just how hot the Arizona economy is right now, let’s have a look at the charts.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says Arizona is fifth nationally for personal income growth, where the state saw a 5.5% increase in 2018.

Forbes says we’re a top-5 state for projected job growth.

The latest Rich States, Poor States report from the American Legislative Exchange Council ranks Arizona in the top-10 of best states.

For the third year in a row, Census Bureau data reveals that the nation’s fastest growing county is Maricopa County.

It seems Gov. Doug Ducey is cutting the ribbon at a major new job announcement or two every week. The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity estimates the state will add more than 165,000 new jobs over a two-year period.

It’s all great news. When I compare notes with my chamber of commerce colleagues across the country, no one feels sorry for me having to advocate for Arizona’s business community.

But with all the good news, comes a word of caution: If Arizona can’t ensure employers that we have the workforce to fill the jobs they want to bring here, then we risk an economic slowdown. Even the best business attraction policies on the books don’t do much good if the state’s workforce is a bad match for its available jobs.

Ensuring the talent pipeline stays full is an old problem that needs new thinking, which is what state Rep. Jeff Weninger brings to the table.

He’s introduced legislation, H.B. 2657, that would establish a grant program to be administered by the Arizona Commerce Authority that could be accessed by community colleges engaged in successfully training workers in high-wage, in-demand fields like manufacturing, information technology, and financial services.

There’s real urgency to modernize our workforce development strategy. Employers across the country have tens of thousands of well-paying jobs open, but they don’t have the skilled talent to fill them. Just in Arizona, we have more than 15,000 positions that need to be filled in manufacturing and computer systems alone. The demand is predicted to grow exponentially over the next decade, so meeting this demand will set the course both for individual and state prosperity.

Rep. Weninger’s idea is a smart one with built-in accountability. Instead of granting training dollars directly to employers, his plan ensures Arizona’s lead economic development agency, the ACA, works with community colleges to incent the development of training programs for the industries where they’re needed most and for jobs that pay well. Students will leave the community college with an industry certification or credential that ensures they’ll be ready for work and in-demand.

The positive impact will be felt statewide. Community colleges can share the curriculum and program standards they establish with other community colleges in Arizona. Imagine, for example, an advanced manufacturing certificate program hosted by Central Arizona College that could produce a portion of Lucid Motors’ and Nikola’s future workforce in Pinal County.

The concept is good not just for targeted industries, but their related ones, too. If employers know that the state is doing a good job of producing qualified workers for a particular field, other employers in ancillary businesses can invest in Arizona with confidence that we’re growing talent here.

A look at the various state rankings shows that the pro-growth policies Gov. Ducey and the Legislature have adopted are working. We’re on the leading edge of emerging technology like 5G, cybersecurity, blockchain, and FinTech; we’re home now to next-generation zero-emission heavy truck and electric vehicle manufacturing; and we’re becoming a hotspot for the insurance and financial services industries.

But just like workers migrate to where the jobs are, employers migrate to where the workers are. Rep. Weninger’s bill will help ensure that Arizona remains the place where employers want to be.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Glenn Hamer

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