Laura Tomaka

Author Articles

CSG Midwest
Ask employers what their biggest challenges are, and one of the first responses will often be the difficulty in filling jobs with qualified workers. Ask policymakers what the biggest challenges facing their state’s economy are, and it won’t be long before they mention the need to build a trained workforce — one that can fill good-paying jobs and enable individual economic mobility.
 
This policy challenge is particularly acute in regard to middle-skill jobs — those requiring more than a high school diploma, such as an associate’s degree, certificate or other postsecondary credential, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Last year, in fact, none of the 10 fastest-growing occupations required bachelor’s degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers could instead qualify for these jobs through such means as skills certificates, on-the-job training or apprenticeships.
 
In an effort to match state policy with these labor-market realities, new legislation is being introduced and innovative programs are being implemented across the Midwest that target middle-skill jobs and workers.
 
 
 
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Through a mix of legislation and actions taken by governors, new initiatives are being launched in states across the Midwest to remove workforce barriers and to help get more disabled individuals into the workforce.

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In just a few short years, the presence of ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar has spread to more than 60 metropolitan areas across the country — 15 of which are in the Midwest. With a simple tap of a button on a smartphone application, a passenger can connect with a driver. The driver, using his or her personal vehicle, then provides a ride to a desired location, oftentimes at much cheaper prices than a traditional taxi or car service.
 
Should these ride-sharing companies fall under the same licensing and insurance regulations as taxi and limousine services? Should they fall under a new type of classification of service, or not be regulated at all? These are some of the questions that states and municipalities have begun to address with the rise in ride-sharing.
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With its cluster of farming, industry leaders such as DuPont Pioneer and John Deere, and a large land-grant university, central Iowa is already a hub of economic activity centered on agriculture and bioscience. But state, local, business and university leaders believe the region still has much untapped potential.

Their response: Join together on a new Cultivation Corridor initiative, which creates new partnerships among regional leaders in economic development, education and bioscience and aims to market central Iowa as the home of“science that feeds the world.”

If successful, the initiative will also help grow the entire Iowa economy by drawing new investments to the state and attracting and retaining talent and business.

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In Michigan, the state’s legislators meet year-round, earn among the highest legislative salaries in the nation, and get support from a staff of more than 700 people. For a time earlier this year, some inside the Capitol wondered if that might all soon change.

A petition drive to make Michigan a part-time legislature — with much lower staffing levels and legislative pay, along with session days limited to 60 days per year — was being pushed with plans to put it on the ballot later this year.

That drive has since stalled, though supporters of the change have vowed to continue to seek wider support statewide. And the recent activity in Michigan begs the question: Is one model, part-time legislature or full-time legislature, better than the other?

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Where are information technology jobs most concentrated? How is automotive job growth shifting across the nation? What areas specialize in businesses related to food processing? This kind of data is now available through a new web-based initiative (http://clustermapping.us) from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Harvard Business School.
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Leaders at Wichita State University have a vision for boosting innovation development and high-tech commercialization in Kansas.

This year, the state Legislature bought into that vision, allocating $2 million (as part of HB 2506) for a new Innovation Campus that will house early-stage entrepreneurial companies and partner with high-tech businesses. Lawmakers also restored $500,000 for the university’s National Center of Aviation Training, a welcome decision for the state’s aviation manufacturers and related industries that have clustered in Kansas.
 

These actions in Kansas underscore a major trend in U.S. higher education — the growing role of universities in technology-led economic development. Ten years ago, this role was just beginning to be understood and encouraged. Today, it has been widely accepted.
 
 
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A series of high-profile requests by companies wanting special tax breaks from Illinois in order to stay in the state have raised questions about whether the state’s business incentive programs actually result in job and economic growth.
So many questions have emerged, in fact, that lawmakers have agreed not to grant any tax breaks until hearings are held to evaluate the state’s tax environment and the effectiveness of business incentives.
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The foreclosure crisis that followed the 2008 housing crash has resulted in a high volume of vacant properties across the nation. According to U.S. Census Bureau data for the last quarter of 2013, 10.2 percent of all housing units — 13.6 million — were vacant year-round. And while the housing market may be showing signs of improvement, more than 1.2 million properties are still in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information firm specializing in foreclosed and defaulted properties.
High foreclosure and vacancy rates are not only symptomatic of economic problems; they contribute to them and are linked with increases in crime and declines in home values and local property tax revenue.
In response, some states — including Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio in the Midwest — have instituted local land banks: public entities that acquire and manage tax-foreclosed properties.
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In January, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation initiating a new regional economic collaboration between southeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

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