July 28, 2016 by Ed Coghlan
Central Valley alliance looks to boost region's manufacturing ecosystem
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."
That quote is commonly attributed to Walt Disney. But it also describes the new San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance, a group of companies and local partners working to support a sector that's vital to that region.
"Some people campaign to reduce income inequality,” said Jim Mayer, CEO of California Forward. "But in Fresno, business and government leaders are working together to make it happen -- by training workers and creating jobs that pay more than minimum wage."
One problem the region has experienced is identifying, training and retaining a qualified workforce for the large manufacturing sector in and around Fresno and the Central Valley.
The solution? Create an industry-led manufacturing alliance that will help develop a “world-class career technical education (CTE) ecosystem.”
Thanks to the leadership of Deborah Nankivell, CEO of the Fresno Business Council and Mike Betts, CEO of the Betts Company, the Manufacturing Alliance was formed.
“There has been a lot of work done on the workforce issue in our area,” Betts said. “The first thing we needed to do was build upon the assets we already had.”
Those included the Regional Jobs Initiative and other efforts and the recent impetus given by the Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy effort launched by the California Community Colleges.
“We had to build a real manufacturing alliance,” Betts explained. “Our manufacturing cluster was about five guys three years ago.”
But as Betts and others focused the alliance’s work around the workforce issue and building a world class CTE infrastructure, many colleagues joined.
The Alliance, which officially kicked off in April, now boasts more than 80 companies and more than 225 community partners. This year’s Manufacturing Summit drew 600 people.
It’s been an impressive regional effort. Education, local government and industry are working together and developing programs that educate and train students and young adults for jobs in this important sector.
Strengthening and expanding the middle class is critical to California’s economic future, and efforts like the SJVMA are key because they not only help industry but the entire local economy.
Since it began five years ago, the California Economic Summit, organized by CA Fwd and the California Stewardship Network, has been promoting the importance of better preparing the state's workforce for the local demands of California’s diverse economic regions.
Praising the Alliance as an example of that goal, California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor Van Ton-Quinlivan said, "This is an exemplar of CTE co-investment -- an ecosystem coming together to ensure its own skilled workforce." Ton-Quinlivan also serves as co-lead of the California Economic Summit's Workforce Action Team.
On Monday, the Alliance gathered in Fresno to both celebrate its rapid evolution and to focus on the many challenges still ahead.
“Since 2000, Fresno has been practicing a new way to think and act together that puts community first,” said Nankivell. “The recent session about the CTE ecosystem and a key component the SJV Manufacturing Alliance is a demonstration that we are getting good at it.”
Nankivell added that next steps include enhancing specific components of the ecosystem and getting members involved in soft skill development and efforts to measure results.
Betts, who has been working actively on the issue since early 2014, believes this is an effort that other industry areas might replicate. The effort has been community centric, values based and led by stewards of the whole community.
“We’re relevant today,” Betts said. “Now we need to keep getting things done to strengthen our industry and our region.”