May 29, 2008

More jobs and better workers: Now Racine County has a plan

Racine County's long-awaited Workforce Development Strategy report aimed at lowering unemployment and improving the quality and skill levels of our work force was released Thursday. The report iss called "Higher Expectations," and there are plenty to go around.

It is 62 pages of vision, challenges, strategies and tactics -- offset by hope-deadening statistics detailing the long way we have to climb.

Workforce development in the county is at a "crucial crossroads," the report states, listing some of the county's critical concerns:
--Even though manufacturing employment has declined, there is a shortage of skilled employees; dislocated workers are "poorly prepared for anything other than lower-wage jobs;" even entry-level jobs go begging because applicants can't pass drug or background checks or lack "soft skills, such as motivation, punctuality and attendance."

--Too many students drop out of school (only 77% of the county's ninth graders, and 71% of the city's, finish high school in four years); and a diploma "may not signify either 12th grade competence or employability."

--Too many residents view the community in negative terms, "which impacts employee recruitment and retention."

Despite all that bad news -- and there was more (crime statistics, out-migration, unflattering comparisons with Kenosha and Waukesha Counties) -- the report issued a call to action: six "core challenges ... to ensure the county prepares a world-class competitive workforce that will fill available jobs and reduced unemployment and poverty." There's not a quick fix or easy answer in the bunch. They are:
--Raise standards and expectations for public education.
--Support stronger, more financially stable families.
--Create jobs in communities with concentrations of unemployed workers.
--Enhance workforce transportation alternatives.
--Improve job seeker information about opportunities in new and expanding businesses.
--Communicate a more positive community image.
Each of these challenges has been assigned to a different "convener," like the County Executive, the United Way, the Racine County Economic Development Corporation, the Workforce Development Center.

There is a strategic plan for each, with specific challenges listed, goals, strategies, tactics and "outcome metrics" to measure progress. For example, the challenge of creating jobs in communities with concentrations of unemployed workers has as its goal: to create an average of 200 new jobs annually "through business attraction and existing business growth programs" between 2009 and 2014. How? By redeveloping vacant land and underutilized manufacturing facilities, creating new business parks, creating business development incentive programs like low-interest loan funds and micro-lending, and expand ties between the county's minority companies and businesses and governments.

The transportation challenge -- fewer than 1,300 city and county residents use public transportation regularly to commute to work -- seeks to provide alternative transportation options "that more clearly link underutilized workers with employment and educational opportunities." No, KRM isn't mentioned; this is more a Belle Urban System challenge, although it also calls for the recommendation of "possible new transit services ... between Racine County and other counties."

The sixth challenge -- communicating a more positive community image -- seeks a 3% increase by 2014 of residents with a positive community image of Racine County. How? "Hire a public relations professional to identify key target audience and relevant messages..." and "identify and align key media partners required (including web-based media, print media throughout the region from Northern Illinois to Madison, public television and radio) ... to communicate positive news stories affecting Racine County and providing perspectives on other news events."

Want to read the whole report? You'll find it HERE.

There's also a six-minute video introducing the plan, which was played at the Racine County Economic Development Corporation's 25th Anniversary celebration Thursday night at the Marriott. You'll find the video online HERE.

The steering committee that put the plan together was chaired by Michael Batten, Chairman, President and CEO of Twin Disc, Inc. Others on the committee were:
 Bryan Albrecht, President, Gateway Technical College
 Gary Becker, Mayor, City of Racine
 Roger Caron, President, Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce
 Debra Jossart, Director, Racine County Human Services Department
 Gordon Kacala, Executive Director, Racine County Economic Development
 William L. McReynolds, Racine County Executive
 Jeff Neubauer, Chief Executive Officer, Kranz, Inc.
 Alice Oliver, Manager, Workforce Development Center
 John Rote, Vice President, Office of the Chairman, S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
 Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Chief Academic Officer, Racine Unified Schools


  1. Too many residents view the community in negative terms, "which impacts employee recruitment and retention."

    Step 1 in fixing this: Get rid of the Journal Times blogs.

  2. You got that right! Same thought crossed my mind while listening to Mike's speech last night. I was also impressed that Q.A. brought his scout troop.

  3. Hey this report is just what the local agenda makers ordered! Since the report was expensive it must be correct. I'll translate – but first I will point out that I am still positive about this area:

    1. Raise standards and expectations for public education.

    Throw more money at RUSD (for "raising standards") - public beatings, cash rewards or WHAT for "raising expectations"? Marketing people will open the cash spigot to "raise expectations"?

    2. Support stronger, more financially stable families.

    Does this mean that my assessment will go down even though it has gone up every year in a down market? My family's financial stability is not completely controlled by me, it is also influenced by things like prices, employment, and how much I pay to support other families.

    I think #2 is at least partially saying that the feeding trough in Racine is now open. Free dinners will be added to free breakfasts and lunches at the schools and public assistance for housing will be raised. Hopefully this will come from state and federal sources so the local taxpayers won't have to pay ;-)

    3. Create jobs in communities with concentrations of unemployed workers.

    "Communities" with "concentrations" of unemployed "workers" usually have that concentration because access to # 2 above is fairly easy. There is a price point at which people will choose to work vs. stay on or move on to assistance, and this dynamic will not be changed even if new jobs are created, unless they pay big money and the worker only has to show up if and when he or she feels like it. Wait until all of the illegal immigrants get the fast-track to citizenship and they figure out that they can go on assistance and not do those "no American will do" jobs anymore.

    4. Enhance workforce transportation alternatives.

    KRM! KRM! KRM! (Insert other choo choo mantra here if desired)

    So we need to pay to create jobs and pay to get workers to those jobs. I can't tell you how innovative this is. Kind of like Hillary's solution to numerous uninsured citizens - force many of those uninsured to buy health insurance (this would never pass Constitutional muster but I digress).

    5. Improve job seeker information about opportunities in new and expanding businesses.

    Monster and Career Builder (online) and classified ads from local papers - both available at any public library, plus a handful of local job search and placement companies. Perhaps we need sky writers all summer too?

    6. Communicate a more positive community image.

    And of course here is the usual Stegosaurus-size bone for the marketing gurus. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries, travel and those other expensive things marketing people do.

    Again, I am still positive about this area but I see how a few people suck cash out of citizens' wallets in the name of economic development, improving the schools, improving the environment, improving perceptions, and I suspect that I've left a few out. My posts are met with "you're a naysayer/whiner/doom and gloomer" but the answer is not always to pay people (usually in marketing) to save us.

    How are you going to create new jobs through this initiative - pay someone? Again, it all shifts back to marketing and it will allow numerous trips to places within the U.S. and Mexico, Italy and wherever else to give presentations about how wonderful it would be to live in Racine.