Counties talked. ACT listened.
That’s what sparked the recent creation of a county-level pilot program of the ACT Work Ready Communities (WRC) initiative.
Since the launch of the national ACT Work Ready Communities initiative in 2011, only statewide leadership teams have been eligible to apply to participate. In turn, counties in those participating states (nine to date) could then get involved—which left communities in non-participating states asking how they, too, could be part of the movement.
“They have come to us and said, ‘We can’t wait for our state government to get organized. We want to do this today. We want to be an ACT Work Ready Community,’” explained Debra Lyons, ACT vice president of community and economic development, whose area oversees the ACT WRC initiative.
The reason they want to be involved: economic development.
“States want to be competitive—the best places to do business. But basically businesses are making location decisions based on counties and regions,” Lyons said. “They’re the ones who have to keep the doors of businesses open in their communities while attracting new ones. It is the retention and growth strategy that provides for economic growth and results in improved quality of life.”
The requests for the county-level program were heard loud and clear during the International Economic Development Council Conference in Orlando last January, noted Tony Garife, ACT economic development liaison. ACT then set to work to develop the county initiative, using the statewide one as a model. The application period was announced in June and ended in late August.
“We figured if we got between five and 10 applications it would be a successful launch,” Garife said.
They exceeded their goal and in September accepted 16 counties across seven states into the pilot program. “They’re running with this 100 percent. We’re excited,” he said.
The key to a successful application, Garife noted, was having a strong leadership team in place that included representatives from local government, economic development, workforce development, community/technical colleges, the K–12 system, and business and industry.
In October, representatives from each county attended a day-and-a-half WRC Academy in Atlanta.
“We had a pretty jazzed group that left after that meeting,” Lyons said. “We’re moving forward with next steps for them and what they need to put in place before our next meeting in January.” They’ll attend four academies total. The counties will publicly launch their initiatives in the spring and summer of 2014.
Helping counties close the skills gap is a “great space for ACT” to be in, Lyons said.
“What ACT is doing in Work Ready Communities is giving economic development—at the county and state level—the ability to link, align, and match their workforce and use that for economic growth. It’s a perfect place for ACT to be in our mission approach of helping people achieve education and workplace success.”