Thursday, March 31, 2011

U.S. Representative Mike McIntyre Hosts Job Creation Summit at CFCC

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. That was the buzz at the Job Creation Summit hosted by U.S. Representative Mike McIntyre at Cape Fear Community College on Tuesday. The forum focused on how Southeastern North Carolina can bring together partners from public, private, and educational institutions to improve workforce development, business recruitment, and job creation.

Several heavy hitters were there to educate the attendees, including: NC Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, Executive Director of the BRAC Regional Task Force Greg Taylor, U.S. Department of Labor Regional Representative Robert Asaro-Angelo, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, and Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Initiatives of the U.S. Department of Commerce Barry E.A. Johnson.

The featured panelists echoed President Obama’s call for Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” This call for action has become increasingly relevant as we are in a conceptual age where economic development is becoming more and more competitive. Regions aren’t just competing against each other anymore, now nations are...and the United States is falling behind. Look at your tricked out iPhone or Blackberry…bet it ain’t made in America.

While the two-hour summit covered a range of issues, there were two themes unanimously emphasized.

The first was higher education. A staggering 27% of students in the U.S. are high school drop outs. This is at a time where the majority of the workforce must be highly educated and highly skilled. At the federal level, leadership has responded by creating an action plan to boost college graduation rates. President Obama has even gone as far to challenge every single American to get more than a high school education, even if it is just one additional course in higher education. This is undoubtedly in response to two issues: the global achievement gap where the U.S. is tied for 9th place for college completion for 25-34 year olds, and second being the need for students/graduates to learn those skills needed in the knowledge based workforce.

The second theme was the unveiling of a new economic development framework for regions across the nation. Panelists also provided a range of tools at the federal level used to implement this strategy. While the federal government cannot lead the private sector, it can provide support and nurture ideas that come out of business and community convening. The top-down role they play is advancing a common framework- the feds have incredible resources and can play a role in presenting and encouraging frameworks that work.

So what is that strategy? Regionally led economic development.

I realize this doesn’t sound necessarily groundbreaking as most regions have economic development boards, councils, and departments in place. However, this strategy is focused on a ground-up approach rather than the top-down fads that are often adopted in an effort to keep pace.

The panelists suggest local leaders better align their individual workforce system by providing training programs that specifically meet regional workforce sector needs. It becomes dangerous when regions focus on the new cool industry because more often than not, they aren’t positioned to effectively carry them out—let’s get real, not everyone can have a booming nanotechnology industry.

Most regions have a prevailing industry, asset, and particular opportunity for growth… therefore, regions must pursue economic development initiatives that value the unique strengths of that individual area.

A number of strategies were provided, but one of particular interest was the Regional Innovation Clusters Model (RICs). They are geographic concentrations of firms and industries that do business with each other and have common needs for talent, technology, and infrastructure. This new framework leverages core regional strengths by coordinating and synchronizing workforce development efforts like business training, counseling, mentoring, commercialization and technology transfer services. This way, there is a consistency and a common goal. Graduates and others looking for work have a better chance of finding the training and resources they need to get a job…a job in the region they live nonetheless.

In closing, we realize we must have the best trained, educated, and skilled workforce to compete in the global economy. A daunting task, right? Fortunately, the panelists presented an array of federal resources and toolkits to help assist regions as embark on their economic development journeys.

We all too often get stuck on what we think we aren’t. But the main takeaway here is the importance of focusing on the Cape Fear Region’s assets and building on them. We have the ports. We have film. We have tourism. We have beaches. We have a downtown riverfront. We have biotech. We have military. We have arts. We have colleges. Most importantly, we have a southern-hospitality-beach-minded vibe that is unrivaled. We are a unique area brimming with potential for incredible job creation…

Carpe diem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Catching the Entrepreneurial Wave

For many young professionals in Wilmington, suitable work is hard to come by…but the quality of life is too good to prompt them to move. This makes a compelling case for entrepreneurship. If you can’t find a job in the place you love, create your own! Take Mickey Anglemyer, a Cape Fear Community College graduate who recently launched Mickey June Surfboards, a design company that makes custom surfboard art for young groms up to seasoned surfers.

After putting herself through college, Mickey was saddled with student loans. With an associates in art and design, she was worried there was no profitability in art… so she decided she needed to do something more mainstream and marketable like graphic design—“something that fit the mold …a 9 to 5 kind of thing”.

Graphic design positions were difficult to find in the Cape Fear region so she reluctantly moved to Raleigh where she landed an internship creating images, logos, websites, and screen printing. But Mickey says she was always more attracted to the creative and artistic side of the visual communication company and not the production and processing pieces.

“I like the feeling of working with my hands. I never felt like I could create what was in my head on the computer…it is too rigid, too structured. My vision is too organic and my style is the thing that will make me successful.”

After spending a few months in graphic design, Mickey switched gears. It all started when she decided to paint a psychedelic scene on her boyfriend’s surfboard for his birthday. Upon completion, she was pretty impressed with the product and knew that with the robust surfing community in the Wilmington area, there was serious potential for her designs.

“I wanted the freedom to create what I see. Surfboards are something I’m naturally drawn to because of the lifestyle, the youth, the colors, and the shape. The Greeks used to paint pots with sea creatures according to the shape of the vase. It seems like common sense but there are very few instances where you can do that. You can create a painting that is made for the shape and size of that particular board—it’s like giving it a face or a personality. The more research I did on surfboard art the more it became abundantly clear there isn’t much out there on the East Coast. It’s hard to find an artist that has really done it and built the brand.”

Mickey has tapped into a unique niche and is seeing no shortage of orders. With an extensive network in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, boards are floating in left and right. While business is booming, Mickey is looking to grow her brand and formally create a startup…but she needs help.

Her story is one of many. College students are increasingly encouraged to think more entrepreneurially across all disciplines as our workforce and market demand is constantly changing. Securing a job these days isn’t easy, but as studies show college graduates are likely to choose a location before a job, it isn’t surprising that entrepreneurial ventures are on the rise.

Luckily, Wilmington is home to the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, which is able to provide the financial and business guidance needed by young entrepreneurs. Institutions like this one are vital to economic development in our region. Entrepreneurs like Anglemyer have a vision and have a specific target market. But without support from the experts it is difficult to secure capital, launch a marketing campaign, find work space, file legal status, generate a stable revenue stream, and quite frankly, maintain sanity within the new found pressures of the business world.

In Mickey’s case, entrepreneurism and quality of life go hand in hand. It is important that our Foundation, in cooperation with others, realize this linkage and build a bridge to foster entrepreneurial growth while simultaneously enhancing our region’s already incredible assets so we can grow and attract new business- exceptional business- right here at home.

Surf’s up…and so is entrepreneurism!