Mining companies that can't find enough qualified workers.

Manufacturers who can't fill jobs for skilled machinists.

A shortage in skilled computer workers hitting government agencies.

Even with the unemployment rate hovering near 7 percent in Pima County, many employers are looking to hire workers with specific skills. (See stories on various sectors.)

Connecting the dots between local workers and skills in high demand is critically important to providing good jobs and driving economic development, local industry and government officials say as the Star presents its 32nd annual Star 200 survey of the region's biggest employers.

The ability to find qualified workers is a key factor when employers consider moving to Tucson or expanding here, said Joe Snell, CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc.

"Workforce drives all market decisions," Snell said.

With the presence of a major research university, Tucson is well positioned to provide a pipeline of high-end college graduates and advanced-degree talent.

The University of Arizona is the biggest source of engineers for Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems, the region's biggest private employer.

At the lower end of the talent spectrum, Tucson's relatively low cost of living makes it a good place to find entry-level, unskilled workers, Snell said.

But Tucson has too many on the lower-skills end and not enough in the middle, he said.

Tucson "runs both ends of the spectrum with talent," Snell said, which affects corporate decisions to move or expand here.

"The jobs we get are reflective of the talent we offer," he said.

The Pima County Workforce Investment Board - whose main role is to direct federal, state and local funding to workforce programs - recently adopted a sector strategy to promote targeted worker training in six areas: emerging technologies; natural and renewable resources; aerospace and defense; logistics; health science; and infrastructure.

Creating a pipeline of skilled workers remains a challenge particularly in high-tech industries including aerospace, defense and manufacturing.

"Frankly, it's the number one complaint we get from our members, their inability to get qualified workers," said Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the 700-plus member Arizona Technology Council.

Zylstra said a study by the council in late 2011 found shortages of scientific, engineering and information-technology workers across the West, though Arizona fares somewhat better than California, Washington and Colorado.

Pima Community College figures prominently in the effort to train qualified workers. The school offers myriad certificate programs for direct employment, as well as associate degrees in many areas.

Among trade professions, Pima offers certificate and degree programs in aviation technology, automotive, building and construction, machining, surface mining, truck driving and welding.

Pima also offers contract training for individual companies, usually averaging about 50 to 60 classes a year for local employers, said Stan Steinman, who heads those efforts as dean of workforce and business development. Those classes are usually short-term classes but some can be as long as 16 weeks.

On an average, the program will serve about 1,200 students annually, plus about 150 students who go through Pima's Public Safety Institute annually.

Pima also works with Pima County OneStop Career Centers to assess needs and tailor programs to fill them, Steinman said.

While most Pima programs are guided by industry advisory committees, Steinman said the school can always do a better job of responding to changing needs.

"I think we have to be more nimble," he said. "What we are doing is good, but we aren't meeting all the needs."