Newly Merged Workforce (super challenge)
The task is daunting to say the least. On August 24, the newly formed Workforce Investment Board (WIB) got together to discuss their purpose and how to organize and do their work. There are 49 members that were appointed by the Mayor/City Council of St. Paul and the Ramsey County Board. Are they to be planners and policy makers or are they to be advisors to the Chief elected official; i.e., County Board? Just how do you organize to optimize the skills within such a diversified and talented group?
The WIB members were greeted by Ramsey County Manager, Paul Kirkwold; the Governor's Chair of the State Workforce Development Council, Roger Hale; Ramsey County Chair, Rafael Ortega; and St. Paul Mayor, Norm Coleman.
Paul Kirkwold stated that he was there "to be used." Whatever it takes to bring about this merger, he is here to work on it with them. March 14, 2000, the "silos" between the county and city were knocked down. Merger has been talked about for 14 years and serious steps to make it work have been taken in the last 4 years. "We (search for new director team) will have a new Director for you by Oct. 1. This new Department's responsibilities will be much more than finding a first job. It is economic development of the county and region, it is second jobs, it is career training and it is housing availability."
Roger Hale stated that we have the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, 4.2% nationally, 2.8% statewide and only 2.4% in the 7 county area. There are still "pockets" of high unemployment and there is a large group of underemployed workers that need better paying jobs. The new Workforce centers must become multifaceted and offer training and career opportunity so those workers can advance to livable wage jobs. At the state level, we are looking for your report on local issues. We hope to develop action plans that are based on your customer needs and let you know "best practices" that are working throughout the state.
Rafael Ortega remembers working on consolidation issues 9 years ago. Now we have the opportunity to pool resources of the county and the city. "Let's be creative, minimize rules and deliver a better workforce product. There are imperfections in this merger, true, but that's to be expected. I expect to see (positive) changes within a year."
Norm Coleman said, "A new beginning, a new opportunity." To the Mayor, the single biggest issue is economic development. "I challenge you to think outside the box. My approach is selling a great community, not just about bringing people to work the first time; it's developing careers, livable wage jobs, thinking entrepreneurial opportunities; the public sector must think more business like; think quality of service—economic development builds communities."
You must give this group an A+ for their first day's actions. They appointed an interim chair and organized their work activity for the first 90 days. They heard the speakers and are excited to be part of a new department with a new Director (as of September 18, Pat Brady) that will take a new and refreshing approach to developing a new countywide labor market and economy.
Deborah Locke, (Pioneer Press, TO THE POINT, 7/9/00) saw the merger as a positive. Locke said, "The Minnesota Economic Security Department reported last year that the Twin Cities area had 80,000 business establishment. A mere 10 metro areas in the United States have a larger economy and labor market. The only way the state can continue to thrive is through a trained, valued workforce able to contribute well into the new century. The merger is a positive sign of preparation for the years ahead."
It is quite popular to merge and to create a new department. The question is: Was this a merge for merger sake? The County Workforce Council and Job and Training Department was considered one of the best operationally throughout the state. The county could have continued as a Workforce entity under the grandfather clause for three years. Will the budget be big enough to do all the dreams beyond doing mandated MFIP services? Will the new department and WIB be able to leverage dollars for economic development and housing? These are questions to be answered and challenges to be met.
Author: Commissioner Rettman's Office / Information Services