Sector partnerships: Collaborations for economic growth

I spent some time this morning at PCC’s East Campus, visiting with students at the start of the Spring semester. Hearing their stories always is inspirational – it reminds me why we’re here and gets me thinking about new ways we can serve our community.

Educating students so that they’re ready to succeed in the 21st century is at the top of our to-do list. By aligning resources and priorities with those of area employers and other constituents, PCC has an opportunity to help drive economic development in our community.

That was the message at the heart of a presentation to the PCC Governing Board last week. The presentation was facilitated by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), an economic development organization whose charge is to transform the state into an economic powerhouse.

That’s a goal we all can get behind, and the ACA website lists seven key industry sectors that represent the best opportunities for expansion:
Aerospace and defense
Technology and innovation
Optics/photonics
Bioscience and health care
Renewable energy
Advanced manufacturing
Advanced business services

These sectors offer avenues for the College to partner with established local industry to provide the well-trained employees needed for growth. But the key points made at the presentation by economic development expert John Melville involved the complex human synergy needed for the sector partnership process to succeed.

Sector partnerships are employer-driven collaborations among companies in a specific industry cluster. These companies, normally competitors, buy into the notion that growing and expanding the sector benefits everyone. The employers work with governments, educators, labor, economic development groups and community organizations on a holistic approach to growth. Having access to an education pipeline producing qualified workers is a necessary condition to success, but it’s not sufficient. Infrastructure, marketing, government regulation, access to export markets – all must be optimized for growth to occur.

Suffice it to say that a partnership’s success isn’t guaranteed. My experience with similar economic development efforts in Washington state is that a lot of hard decisions must be made by all partners for the process to bear fruit. Often, partners must overcome internal opposition to make the significant changes needed to align their organization with the partnership’s goals and objectives. For the collaboration to succeed, I have found that all partners have to think a little less about “me” and a little more about “us.” The best partnerships are champion-driven “coalitions of the willing” who are truly ready to work together.

Among the first steps in the process is educating interested parties through ACA-facilitated academies that map out the road ahead for the interested parties. An academy for advanced manufacturing is planned for the spring. The College has been invited, and will attend. We welcome the opportunity to cooperate with our external constituents for the tangible economic benefit of our students and the community.

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