Sanchez & Johansson -- Adjusting to the New Economy: The Maryland Workforce

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Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles in Corridor Inc.'s "Economic Impact" issue, which was published this month. Click here to sign up to receive a complimentary copy of the entire print issue.

By Alex Sanchez and Christian S. Johansson

Maryland – like all states – is recovering from the most significant recession in generations. As states pull out of the economic downturn and enter the New Economy, some will win and some will lose. Those that win will do so by making tough choices to plan for the future, build sustainable industries and develop a pipeline of trained, skilled and educated workers able to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Maryland is standing strong, protecting important priorities like education and making progress that can be measured with two important yardsticks: the best public schools in America three years running and an unemployment rate 25 percent below the national average.

Building on that progress, we are committed to creating jobs and supporting a sustainable, growing economy that will thrive for generations. Both longstanding and newly-launched initiatives will strengthen our workforce, encourage innovation and support job creation.

As Secretaries of the two state agencies charged primarily with economic and workforce development, we are pleased to offer Corridor’s readers a page from our playbook:

Learn from Yesterday’s Lessons. Many jobs lost during the recession are gone forever. New jobs in emerging or growing industries require different skills and more education. Recent studies indicate middle- and high-skill jobs require a post-secondary certification, credential or degree.

Teach Tomorrow’s Skills. By increasing the skilled workforce 20 percent by 2012 and the number who continue their education and training beyond high school, we can fuel the pipeline of qualified workers. Skills2Compete Maryland was created to better equip students and workers with the skills to compete for New Economy jobs, including infrastructure building, BRAC, healthcare, science and security, information technology and clean energy.

Build Capital for Innovation. We must build capital to support the high-tech, high-growth companies with successful programs like the Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit, which spurs private investment in the life sciences industry. And InvestMaryland will infuse a minimum of $70 million into early stage companies in high-growth industries like bio, IT and cybersecurity.

Cut the Red Tape. Governor O’Malley recently launched Maryland Made Easy, an interagency effort encompassing more efficient processes, one-stop operations for business applications and permitting, and expedited reviews for high-priority projects with the broadest economic benefits that will make it easier for businesses to operate.

Support the Troops. With training, dedication and life experience, veterans are incredible economic assets. Maryland launched the Helmets2Hardhats program and created the Warrior to Worker program. Also, the Mil2FedJobs web portal is the nation’s first crosswalk for veterans interested in federal positions.

Recognize Small Business is Big Business. In Maryland, small businesses represent 97 percent of employers and are the backbone of our economy. Last year, we helped create the $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, which is modeled on Maryland’s successful loan guarantee program. The state has been awarded $23 million from SSBCI to fund small businesses and help leverage $230 million in private sector lending.

Thrive in the World Market. As the world shrinks and new markets expand, Maryland must compete on a global stage. To complement the National Export Initiative, the Maryland Export program was launched to increase export assistance to small businesses and leverage existing resources.

Celebrate our Strength in Diversity. Maryland leads the country in the percentage of women-owned firms and ranks second in the percentage of African American-owned firms. Maryland’s workforce is equally diverse. More than a quarter of scientists, a fifth of health care workers and a fifth of computer specialists in Maryland are foreign-born.

Commercialize Federal Training. We must develop new competitive industries and look to private sector opportunities in the fields the federal economy helped incubate. Maryland – the nation’s epicenter for cybersecurity and home to 16 of the nation’s top 25 aerospace companies – launched the Business of Space Science and CyberMaryland initiatives to support commercialization in these industries.

Prosper through Earning and Learning. With 200,000 Marylanders out of work, it seems counterintuitive that 80,000 positions are vacant across the state. On-the-job training initiatives and apprenticeships allow employers to train people for specific needs, develop the skills of their workforce and increase retention of employees, while allowing workers to learn while they earn. Maryland graduated 1,457 apprentices last year, a 28 percent increase over the previous year.

In Maryland, we don’t make excuses – we make progress. And we don’t take shortcuts. We build sustainable systems. Maryland made the tough choices to protect our shared priorities while cutting $5.6 billion from the state’s budget and eliminating 4,800 positions. We made the decision to reform our unemployment insurance payment structure to stay solvent and be a more inviting state, long term, for potential employers.

To create jobs in the New Economy, we must stay on the path to progress and avoid economic shortcuts.

Alex Sanchez is Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation, and Christian S. Johansson is Maryland’s Secretary of Business & Economic Development.
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