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‘We are laser-focused on connecting workers to … good jobs’

Mayors and their teams are gathered to share their ideas as part of the Good Jobs, Great Cities Academy

“Here at the Department of Labor – and throughout the Biden-Harris administration – [a] good job is our North Star,” says Acting Secretary Julie Su, U.S. Department of Labor.

“We are laser-focused on connecting workers to these good jobs, including workers who’ve been left out in the past. This is what it means to build an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, and where workers share in prosperity and security.”

Acting Secretary Julie Su, U.S. Department of Labor

Su’s remarks come as the first cohort of the Good Jobs, Great Cities Academy convenes today in Washington, D.C. to discuss innovative and scalable solutions to help workers move into quality, high-demand jobs.

The National League of Cities (NLC) previously announced 16 cities are participating in the initiative – “made possible by new federal investments, with a focus on supporting residents from historically underserved and underrepresented communities in order to address key shortcomings in their education and workforce ecosystem.”

What Mayors are Bringing to the Conversation

“Investing in people, creating partnerships … can create endless possibilities,” says Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, Washington – who also serves as president of the NLC.

Citing health care and green jobs pathways, Woodards says, “We want to make sure that everybody who lives in Tacoma who needs those kinds of jobs has access and opportunity to them. That will be our focus.”

She continues, “We’ll use the earn-and-learn model which not only provides an opportunity for them to get trained, but it provides a stipend for them to be paid for that training. It also provides wraparound services for those who participate – who need them six months after graduation.”

“We are, as I tell my staff every day, hard at work on workforce development because it is the most important part of my job,” says Mayor Tim Kelly of Chattanooga, Tennessee. “We’re focused on economic growth, but if we can’t meet the needs of industry through an equity lens, then we could make our problems worse. My thesis coming into office was to close gaps specifically between the Black and white communities in Chattanooga.”

“I’m a workforce geek. It’s what I did before I was a mayor,” says Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth, Minnesota. “We are going to be focusing on manufacturing. We know that manufacturing in Duluth has grown 21% over the last decade. We’re projected to have about 7,000 openings over the next decade.”

Larson adds, “We have an equity team that is putting together an equity index for all of the investments that we make as it relates to workforce development. We’re really, really excited to be a part of this – to lead in the places that we can and to learn and accelerate this effort for our entire region.”

Mayor Tyler Moore of Kokomo, Indiana speaks of his city’s electric vehicle battery plant – a joint venture between Stellantis and Samsung SDI. “Our focus is on finding the workforce to not only staff the battery plant but suppliers, as well. Our focus is going to be on workforce training and the career path – secondary education and into postsecondary education. [As] part of our team, we have the chancellors for two noteworthy institutions – Indiana University in Kokomo as well as Ivy Tech.”

“We’re fortunate to be in an area with a relatively low unemployment rate – about 2.1% in May,’ says Mayor Michael O’Connor of Frederick Maryland. “The problem, as I think many communities are facing, is we have a very high vacancy rate. Those are across all sectors, but our emphasis is particularly in the workforce development areas that can support emerging green infrastructure and climate resilience.”

O’Connor notes, “We’re looking at what we’re calling opportunity youth, those young people between the ages of 14 and 24 as a target population to connect to the emerging jobs that are going to build more resilient economies and more resilient communities all across this country.”

Mayor Edward Sundquist of Jamestown, New York says, “We have over 200 manufacturers and we do $5.1 billion in annual manufacturing shipments in our area alone. But our biggest challenge is we have a lot of open positions currently, and we really need to upskill our workforce and provide for some basic needs along the way.”

He continues, “We really want to help change the way we look at workforce development across this nation as we move into implementing President Biden’s infrastructure bills and really rebuilding America as we go.”

‘Delivering real tangible benefits on the ground’

Su notes some labor data, “We have added over 13.2 million jobs since President Biden took office. To put that into perspective – after the Great Recession in 2008, it took 10 years for that kind of recovery.”

“The share of working-age Americans with jobs is the highest in over 20 years. Just as importantly, the labor force participation rate for working-age women – that’s ages 25 to 54 – is 77.8%. That is the highest on record for the third straight month. It’s the highest on record since we started measuring that data over 75 years ago. Women are powering the recovery and doing our part to build the economy that we want and need.”

Regarding federal support to cities around the country, Su says, “We think of workforce development as infrastructure too. It’s the roads and bridges that connect people to the good jobs that they want and need and employers to the people that they want and need. And we need that infrastructure to be as strong as our physical infrastructure.”

“We know that to do that, we have to turn these investments into real tangible benefits on the ground in communities across the country. So, it makes sense that we would work closely with the people who are delivering real tangible benefits on the ground in their communities every single day. And that’s mayors.”

The rest of the 16-member Academy cohort includes:

  • Birmingham, AL
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Lansing, MI
  • Missoula, MT
  • Monroe, NC
  • Newark, NJ
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Santa Fe, NM
  • Saint Louis, MO
  • Tempe, AZ