Time to stop moping about Tucson economy

Our view: Education, developing quality workforce key to attracting new firms
2013-06-05T00:00:00Z Time to stop moping about Tucson economy Arizona Daily Star
June 05, 2013 12:00 am

Snarky labels won't elevate the economy or the community.

Last week Mark Lautman, author of "When Boomers Bail: A Community Economics Survival Guide," stopped by the Tucson Metro Chamber with some dire economic predictions. His remarks appeared to be more of the things we've heard and read for years - Tucson's economy is bad.

Our community doesn't need more criticism or to latch on to catchphrases like Lautman's "Loserville" and "Winnerville."

Our community needs concrete ideas, real-world, practical solutions and a can-do attitude that inspires cooperation.

The clever comments belied Lautman's most important message: The workforce is the resource companies want from a community.

Lautman predicted the community will have too many dependent residents - retirees and the unskilled unemployed - and not enough young talent and skilled workers to make Tucson's economy viable, the Star's Gabriela Rico reported Friday.

There's apparently an echo in the Tucson valley.

Sentiments lamenting the loss of young professionals to jobs elsewhere have been bouncing off the mountainsides for decades. Newly minted college graduates have been dubbed Tucson's "largest export."

Five years ago, the community heard similar sentiments from Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class" and a follow-up, "Flight of the Creative Class."

At a Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. luncheon, he described an ideal community able to attract knowledge-driven workers who create for a living. This coveted population resides where it can find the right mix of elements, such as ambience and activities, not because of company transfers. (That wasn't a description of Tucson.)

Lautman's premise, however, is that the nation has reached a point in which there are more jobs than qualified workers.

With baby boomers retiring and moving out of the job market, the pool of qualified workers is diminishing. The pool of younger, qualified workers will be able to choose where it wants to live, and companies will follow the workforce.

A Lautman "Loserville" characteristic: Qualified workers are fully employed, leaving no labor pool to attract new companies.

Lautman suggested matching employers to the ability of the current workforce as a strategy for TREO's job-creation efforts. He suggests testing the unemployed population, finding a majority skill set, and matching companies that need that category of worker.

A fine idea if Tucson had a reasonable, ready-to-employ pool. Much of our undereducated, would-be workforce is barely qualified to work at Burger King. We have plenty of fast-food joints.

The message we extrapolated from Lautman: Education is the key to Tucson's economic development.

We can elevate our economy. For example, the Star supports the continued funding of Pima County's Joint Technical Education District, which prides itself on "moving students to careers and college" through tuition-free Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses.

Approved by voters in 2006 and opened in 2007, JTED has proved to be a "successful model of delivering education," Tina Norton, chief financial officer of the district, said in our editorial last month. "Our students walk out with a sense of direction and a job."

Programs like JTED help create the desirable workforce that companies seek.

We welcome new pragmatic approaches to economic development. An educated workforce, however, is the bottom line.

We hope Lautman inspires business and community leaders to stop moping about Tucson's lack of economic prowess.

Don't get too attached to the cute labels and get busy working with parents, teachers, administrators and lawmakers to ensure our children and grandchildren are educated and can live productive, meaningful lives here in Southern Arizona.

Arizona Daily Star

Our community doesn't need more criticism or to latch on to catchphrases like Lautman's "Loserville" and "Winnerville."

Our community needs concrete ideas, real-world, practical solutions and a can-do attitude that inspires cooperation.

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