The Upjohn Institute's place-based research initiative has released “Investing in Community: A Playbook for Connecting Economic and Skills Development,” its second annual report. This report was completed a few short months ago, in what seems like a different world, but the imperative for communities to create effective economic and skills development is greater now than ever.
Recessions hurt communities and limit resources for governments and local organizations to create broadly shared prosperity. Fortunately, many ideas presented in this report are inexpensive to pursue, even in the current budget environment. Existing economic development programs can refocus on sectors likely to expand because of the pandemic, for example.
The report's proposals for better linking jobs and skills development—whether through information provided to students in place-based scholarship programs, via K-12 career-oriented programs, or through customized job matches for unemployed workers—cost relatively little and offer high expected benefits. Smart zoning and the freeing up of usable land can also be done with shifts in policies rather than new expenditures.
Some investments do cost more, such as creating place-based scholarships and customized training to attract high-tech business. In those cases, clever use of federal pandemic legislation may help state and local governments pay for these investments. In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed using federal pandemic assistance to help essential workers without degrees pay for community college. Other states are using the funds to train and pay contact tracers, which helps combat the spread of COVID-19 while providing jobs that could launch health careers.
A wise federal government can help, offering flexible aid to local economies and targeting job-creation policy to communities that need it most. But state and local governments must judiciously use whatever aid they receive to enhance their own prosperity. The value of locally driven efforts is that they can build on a community’s own assets and be tailored to that community’s own needs. This report is intended as a playbook to help with these goals.
The report is available for free download.
Printed copies are available by request.