Like the ants in Aesop’s fable, hundreds of area businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies have been working diligently for years to build a strong economic and workforce development system, which is serving the region well during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Guided by the powerful combo of the Chester County Economic Development Council and the Chester County Workforce Development Board, these intertwined systems have helped Southeastern Pennsylvania lead the state in economic growth and now recovery.
Patrick E. Bokovitz, Executive Director of the Chester County Workforce Development Board, heads one of the 22 local workforce development boards that make up my organization, the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association. These entities serve as the honest brokers of the only base solid enough to anchor real economic stability: a good job for everyone who needs one.
Among many other things, local workforce development boards are responsible for the more than 60 PACareerLink™ centers, which serve as the critical partner to Pennsylvanians looking for work.
“In Chester County, when we talk economic and workforce development together, we mean it. Bokovitz said. “We are a county of opportunity, collaborating to create family-sustaining jobs for our residents.”
What is Chester County’s secret sauce?
Over the past 13 years, Bokovitz and Marybeth DiVincenzo, the Chief Human Resources and Marketing Officer at the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC), have convened and carefully nurtured industry sector partnerships, most notably in manufacturing, information technology, heath care, energy, and agriculture. “We believe workforce development IS economic development and that a collaborative approach to solving business solutions is key,” says DiVincenzo.
Led by committed and forward-thinking employers, industry partnerships are part of a national movement seeking to find collective solutions to better linking employers in similar and supply-chained sectors, connecting them with skilled and accessible talent, and leveraging regional resources that meet the industry’s demand.
The stats are impressive. Over the past 10 years alone, the industry partnerships, which cover the five-county Southeastern Pennsylvania region, have trained more than 16,000 workers, provided critical hands-on career exploration opportunities to more than 40,000 students, and supported more than 6,000 dislocated workers, all with the help of more than 7,000 volunteers from the private, public, and nonprofit sector.
In addition to keeping the economy strong, these industry groups were able to jump directly into the fight against COVID-19 by leveraging partners in CCEDC’s Global Advisory Board, who in April procured 3.5 million items of much-needed Personal Protective Equipment for Chester County’s frontline workers. This board, a regional CCEDC partnership of more than 30 international business experts that convenes regularly, has members with fluency in 17 languages and cross-industry experience in 35 countries.
And because of its strong and active network of area employers, during the pandemic Chester County was able to step up quickly to serve as the clearinghouse for the state’s loan programs and local main street relief programs. To date it has worked closely with 98 companies to distribute $7 million and made 248 grants to smaller companies totaling over $5 million.
Today, the state funding that supports these regional industry partnerships is at stake. Without these partnerships, Southeastern Pennsylvania will lose the backbone of its economic strength – the vibrant and collaborative industry partnerships.
“Don’t just look at Chester County and Southeastern Pennsylvania,” Bokovitz said. “We are actually the engine of the Commonwealth and we want to get back to roaring and help our families take advantage of opportunities that will come along.”
“Industry partnerships allow us to stay apprised of what’s going on in our most important sectors and keep them strong,“ Bokovitz said. He added that industry more than matches the state’s investment and the payoffs are great jobs, economic stability, competitiveness, a vibrant region, and a stronger Pennsylvania.
If Chester County has been the hardworking ant of Aesop’s fable, today we worry that Pennsylvania will make the wrong choice to become the lazy grasshopper. We must invest in our strong, collective future in good times and in bad. Now is not the time to pull support for industry partnerships, just when we need them the most.
Please reach out to your state legislators and Governor Wolf to let them know that Southeast PA voters understand the value of industry partnerships and support continued funding for them in the state budget.
Carrie Anne Amann is executive director of the Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association, a statewide trade association that advocates for and supports local workforce development boards.
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