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Updated 5:30 PM February 1, 2008




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Work force and economic development agencies
team up during tough times

Michigan's economic woes have prompted a greater incentive for work force agencies and economic development groups to collaborate, a new study shows.

The two entities historically have been discreet and disconnected but the groups increasingly are coordinating efforts to get the most out of limited resources, the study says.

"What began out of necessity is now seen in many places as the only way to move forward," says Elsie Harper-Anderson, assistant professor of urban and regional planning.

The study, funded by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, focused on the growing collaboration between work force agencies and economic development groups. These organizations' distinct goals and approaches have traditionally differed — economic development emphasizes creating jobs and increasing economic activity, while work force development focuses on placing people in jobs.

Massive job losses in Michigan, the ailing auto industry and its related sectors, decreases in federal program funding, and migration of young educated workers increased the sense of urgency to address local economies, Harper-Anderson says. Recently there has been some progress as businesses, nonprofits and government agencies are beginning to collaborate more on work force and economic development efforts.

"Work force administrators interviewed in Michigan saw a need for more consistent and systematic efforts to create more seamless connectivity as compared to the sporadic and ad hoc efforts they see now," says Harper-Anderson, whose research focuses on the impact of macroeconomic transformations on regional labor markets, local economies and racial inequality patterns.

Some broad changes have contributed to the evolving relationship in Michigan:

• Organizational changes have blurred the former divisions between the two disciplines;

• Intersecting networks, shared knowledge and growing social capital have increasingly linked the two fields;

• Customization of efforts have increased collaboration based on local assets, traditions and relationships;

• Changes in the actors involved, as business leaders take increasingly active roles in work force development efforts; and

• New approaches taken by work force development officials that are more in line with how economic development officials operate.

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