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Economy & Economic Development  October 22, 2010

Workforce Council gains three NoCo members

Three Northern Colorado men say they’re looking forward to offering their varied work experiences and business insight to the Colorado Workforce Development Council. The statewide group is charged with better aligning education and business to provide the skilled workforce the state needs to kickstart its sagging economy.

Larry Burkhardt, Jay Hardy and Ryan Keiffer are among 28 new members appointed to the council last month by Gov. Bill Ritter.

“Over the next year, the steps we take now will help ensure that Colorado’s workforce continues to be one of our strongest assets, which ultimately will help us come out of this downturn stronger and healthier than before,” Ritter said while signing the Sept. 16 executive order that launched the new workforce development push.

“The core idea is simple,” Ritter said. “We need a workforce system that can meet the demands of business. It is this idea that became the core of our efforts to revitalize the Colorado Workforce Development Council. We have worked closely with local communities to ensure that the (council) would provide a voice to each region of the state.”

Burkhardt, president and CEO of Upstate Colorado Economic Development, which promotes Weld County, said he’ll be bringing his expertise on employer needs to the group.

“I would hope I could in part be a voice for the employers, given the information I’ve been able to glean from them as to what they’re looking for,´ said Burkhardt, who also serves on the Weld County Workforce Development Board.

Burkhardt said he expects the council’s first focus will be to prioritize the business sectors they’ll be targeting.

“I think one of the first priorities is to identify the sectors we want to be in communication with and what it is we’re trying to promote and expand,” he said. “That’s going to be a key factor.”

Hardy, vice president of community affairs for Loveland-based McWhinney, said he hopes to bring some ideas to the council from his background in the private sector, in higher education and in government.

“The thing I’m most interested in is interfacing the education and the job side over the next few years,´ said Hardy, who’s representing Larimer County. “There’s a lot of really great training things going on that, as a state, we’re not doing a good enough job sharing. I think Larimer County is viewed in the state as a place that’s doing a lot of great things, and we need to share that with the Pueblos and Grand Junctions of the world.”

Hardy said he believes the state’s community colleges can help take the lead in quickly providing the kinds of skills existing and new businesses need.

“I’m a big fan of the community colleges and clean energy and sustainable energy jobs,” he said. “If we can be nimble and quick to get (workers) ready, then we can be attractive to companies.”

Fresh ideas

Keiffer, executive director of Beet Street, an arts and educational initiative of the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority, said he hopes his background in the creative world will bring some fresh, new ideas to the council.

“Here locally, one of the things Beet Street is doing is we are working to create an arts incubator, working with a few different audiences to train arts groups on business and entrepreneurial skills,” he said. “We’re also working with arts students at CSU and possibly younger to help them gain a better understanding of the career paths available to them.”

For example, Keiffer said, music majors could find jobs writing scores for video games. “There’s lots of career paths that aren’t so obvious that arts students can pursue,” he said.

Keiffer said Beet Street is hoping to partner with Colorado State University’s School of the Arts to help students and practicing professionals align their careers more with their artistic skills and inclinations.

“It’s something (the council) can talk about,” he said. “As far as the state looking for new ways to develop jobs, our incubator could be one way to do that.”

Hardy, a former director of the Fort Collins DDA and manager of The Ranch, Larimer County’s fairgrounds complex, said the key to the council’s success will be how fast training programs can be developed.

“We need to really tighten the connection between the training and the jobs coming down the next few years so we can train them faster than other states,” he said. “If we can have those employees ready to go in four to six months, we’ll get that contract.”

Hardy said although the council has so far had only one meeting, it gave him a favorable impression of its potential for change.

“The energy in that room that first meeting was one of collaboration,” he said. “I certainly think (the council) represents the state well by region and by industry type, and it puts business first rather than government first.”

Hardy noted that three-fourths of the council’s membership was business-oriented. “Business has to have the primary voice in getting that done,” he said.

The workforce development council will oversee 19 existing Workforce Investment Boards across the state to focus on industry growth strategies, nurturing talent and building a job-training infrastructure in Colorado.

The new council also calls for several Colorado cabinet members to serve as non-voting members, including Rico Munn, director of the Department of Higher Education; Donald Mares, director of the Department of Labor and Employment; Don Marostica, director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade; and the commissioner of education, a position Dwight Jones is leaving to become superintendent of schools for Clark County, Nev., in December.

Burkhardt said given Colorado’s dearth of financial incentives to offer companies with jobs, it’s even more important to have a strong statewide workforce.

“Given we don’t compete well on incentives, we have to go forward making sure our workforce is maximized and there is a pipeline for getting people to where they’re needed,” he said.

Three Northern Colorado men say they’re looking forward to offering their varied work experiences and business insight to the Colorado Workforce Development Council. The statewide group is charged with better aligning education and business to provide the skilled workforce the state needs to kickstart its sagging economy.

Larry Burkhardt, Jay Hardy and Ryan Keiffer are among 28 new members appointed to the council last month by Gov. Bill Ritter.

“Over the next year, the steps we take now will help ensure that Colorado’s workforce continues to be one of our strongest assets, which ultimately will help us come out of this downturn…

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