The Western Piedmont Region of North Carolina, consists of Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties. Of the 14 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA), the Hickory MSA is currently the seventh largest Metro area in North Carolina. As of Census 2010, Alexander-Burke-Caldwell-Catawba County population is 365,497.
Forming the Core Leadership Group
In 2007, three area WDBs came together as an informal working group—named the Future Workforce Alliance (FWA)—to leverage available state funding for collaborative planning aimed at finding creative solutions to the region’s shared structural economic and workforce issues. The staff of these boards had been working closely together, but they opted to formalize their arrangement with the participation of their Executive Boards and engage the leadership of the region’s largest economic development group.
The Alliance represents a collaboration of North Carolina’s High Country, Western Piedmont and Region C WDBs—serving 15 counties in the North Carolina’s northwestern corner and its Foothills area including 10 of the 12 Future Forward Economic Alliance counties. [The Economic Alliance emerged from a 2002 regional comprehensive economic development strategy process (funded by the US Economic Development Administration and the North Carolina Department of Commerce) involving twelve counties (Alexander, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln, McDowell, Mitchell, Rutherford, Watauga and Wilkes) in North Carolina’s 10th and 11th Congressional Districts.] In addition, the Advantage West Economic Development Group—a state-chartered nonprofit group that serves North Carolina’s 23 western-most counties—is a core economic development partner of the Workforce Alliance.
This Super WIB was envisioned as a voluntary confederation of workforce boards sharing resources and conducting common program planning and implementation. That idea has been one of the core drivers in the formation of the Future Workforce Alliance. The process has began slowly with the ad hoc collaborations and is now actively culminating and has developed a joint multi-board regional workforce strategy.
The intent of developing a regional workforce development collaborative model is to build on and enhance the Future Forward Economic Alliance’s capability to coordinate program development and to extend those efforts to promote the region’s enhanced educational and skills capacity to the area workforce, while taking advantage of an existing engaged group of stakeholders.
The goal of this workforce plan is to transform the way the region’s economic and workforce development systems interact and help these organizations—serving a number of counties—become more proactive in helping companies in transitioning and the region’s workforce becomes more focused in helping individuals identify alternative career opportunities. In addition, the effort aims to help workforce and economic development intermediaries to better target their investments before future lay-offs occur in anticipation of new opportunities.
One of the tenets of the FWA experience is that strategic alliances change in shape and scope as current conditions demand. Its flexibility is one of its key strengths. A number of sustainability issues are resolved by tying a regional workforce development collaborative effort to the FWA: a strong existing organization with a unifying sense of purpose; key partners at the table; political influence; a ready opportunity to test out the roles and actions that are negotiated through an MOA; access to additional resources; support of key community leaders.
The collaboration will better meet regional needs by providing a link between the growing workforce development resources and the workers who need them.
Area Economic Development Corporations (EDCs)