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Regionalism: Communities in Transition

When the U.S. Department of Labor began to pursue regionalism as an operating principle for its programs and, more importantly, for its relationships with the economic development and education sectors, Maher & Maher was “front and center” in helping the agency develop its six-step planning process, and in delivering technical assistance to WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) and RIG (Regional Innovation Grant) regions nationally. This led to our practice of assisting specific regions through their collaborative planning processes, as we have done under funding authorities of the Departments of Labor, Commerce, and Defense. Most recently, we “wrote the book” on regional response to economic shocks, the 100-page “Local Official’s Guide to Economic Adjustment,” for the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment.

Through these experiences, Maher & Maher understands the intricacies of organizing regions to employ a systematic, strategic approach to regionally-based economic transformation and workforce revitalization. The overarching challenge is twofold:

  • To leverage expert research findings by systematically soliciting reality-based input from regional leaders, and to do so in a manner that clearly values that input and “connects the dots” to produce sustainable regional goals and strategies that are capable of implementation; and
  • To recruit, engage and facilitate regional leaders so that an organic social network develops and serves to align and focus resources on achieving consensus-based regional goals.

The remainder of this page highlights just a few key aspects of how we assist communities in planning its economic and workforce futures on a regional basis.

SUCCESS FACTORS IN CREATING A GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE REGION

There are a number of key success factors in creating a sustainable regional economic/workforce development plan that is capable of implementation, as pictured below:

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Any regional economic/workforce development planning process has a number of moving parts and is, in fact, a constantly shifting target. Without expert project management, these parts cannot be appropriately integrated, resulting in a plan that does not consider all available and potentially available assets – and leveraging assets is key to implementing the Plan.

We always assemble a project team equipped with both the skills and capacity to meet the requirements of each specific region.  We manage participating consulting and client organizations to align roles, responsibilities, and reporting/liaison points in order to create an effective structure that maximizes collaboration. We also work with the client’s team to identify opportunities and overcome obstacles as the project progresses, and provide regular status updates to ensure that schedules and goals are met. Our Project Manager always serves as the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) between the client, Maher, and any subcontractors, thereby lessening the management burden on client organizations.

A detailed plan for meeting goals through interim project steps is crafted and used to monitor project progress and ensure on-time delivery.  A key feature of project management and communication activities is population and maintenance of  a Collaborative Workspace (CWS), used by all individuals involved in the project (Leadership Group members, Core Team members, intermediary and consulting staff, others).  The work space houses all key project documents and resources, including contact information for all those involved in the project; includes calendar and announcement features; and hosts discussion threads on project-related issues. 

The following graphic illustrates the typical manner in which the overall project is organized:

A FORMAL, WELL-FACILITATED PLANNING PROCESS

While the key to successful facilitation of a regional planning process is remaining agile, open to changes and new, out-of-the-box ideas, and a willingness and ability to adjust processes “on the fly”, we start from a basic planning process. This process is illustrated below:

Although the picture depicts a simple process, it is in fact not linear in practice, and this is where the need for expert facilitation becomes manifest. It is not just the fully populated Leadership Group that needs to be facilitated, but also its constituent Core Teams (sub-teams that focus on particular issues or areas of the economy), as well as the planning process in its entirety.

The services provided in each of our regional engagements are customized to meet the particular needs of the area, and may contain any of the following:

  • Identifying Your Economic Region
  • Regional Visioning and Stakeholder/Community Engagement
  • Regional Asset Identification & Mapping
  • Identification & Analysis of Regional Target Industries and Industry Clusters
  • Regional Social Network Mapping and Stakeholder Engagement
  • “Futures Simulation” Gaming
  • Talent Pipeline & Workforce Skill Analysis & Gap Analysis
  • Educational Output Analysis & Gap Analysis
  • Resource Mapping, Alignment, & Leveraging
  • Industry Cluster Development
  • Leadership Development & Change Management
  • Training/Education Alignment Consulting