Counting on Quality Jobs: Transforming the Economic Development Landscape

August 2010

Moderator: Welcome to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Economic Development podcast series. I'm Todd Greene with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Today, we're talking with Dr. Shari Garmise, vice president for Knowledge Management and Development with the International Economic Development Council, or IEDC. Dr. Garmise has nearly twenty years of experience in economic development research, analysis, and policy development in the U.S. and in Europe. She is the author of a book entitled People and the Competitive Advantage of Place: Building a [Workforce for the 21st Century]. In addition, she is published in several journals on a variety of workforce development issues.

Relatively little research has gone into exploring the issue of quality job creation and developing a continuum of job types within a community. To further explore this concept, IEDC released a report in March 2010 entitled "Creating Quality Jobs: Transforming the Economic Development Landscape." This report examines the role of economic development professionals in creating quality jobs and improving the quality of existing jobs. And it also documents how economic development itself is transforming in response to a changing economy.

Dr. Garmise, thank you for joining me today.

Dr. Shari Garmise: Thank you for the opportunity.

Moderator: The title of your report references "creating quality jobs." How do you define a quality job, and why is it important?

Garmise: Well, historically, quality jobs have usually been defined by very practical measures, such as wages and benefits. While we look at that and think it's important, we've also really focused on the ability for advancement and growth potential. Importantly, one of the things we do when we define quality jobs is we actually define it at the point of implementation. And this is because a quality job for someone who has not graduated high school is not the same thing as a quality job for someone who has a vocational training certificate, or an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. And one of the things that all communities are really facing across the country is a greater volatility and dynamism in the market. But also…what we have seen in the economy is an expansion in the need for quality jobs, where once upon a time…quality jobs focused on those in the greatest need because of such extreme levels of economic transition. The need for quality jobs really is across the spectrum, so we see the need for them to be created across a range of opportunities. And, in a way, that's why it's important, because we now need to look at the kind of jobs we're creating for whom, and to do it in a way that creates a spectrum of opportunities for people across communities and build ways for the individuals in those to grow.

Moderator: Historically, economic development has focused on job creation, and we've seen various strategies evolve beyond the traditional industrial focus to include new strategies like entrepreneurship and technology transfer. How does this focus on quality jobs differ from these vertical approaches, and does an emphasis on quality jobs portend a structural shift in economic development?

Garmise: I think I am going to answer those two questions together. I think part of the reason we are seeing…this focus on quality jobs is it really represents a greater… strategic approach to economic development—it's not that we've done industrial recruitment and now we do entrepreneurship. In fact, what we're seeing is, literally, the layering and alignment of different strategies all to—again—create this idea of a spectrum of jobs across diverse industries. We're not just creating a project with a set number of jobs that we're looking to create, but we're linking that project in through a series of strategic approaches to literally create more of a job creation system.

So, what we're seeing…is more strategies, more linking of those strategies—and, to a certain extent, that represents—call it a growth and development of economic development, not something that's doing things that are fundamentally different, but doing more and linking them, aligning them with, obviously, their strategic direction, but also with other activities going on in the community that have complementary approaches. It layers and links them to meet a series of broader and more strategic goals.

Moderator: There have been a number of strategies that have attempted to address some of the issues you mentioned, like living wages and community benefits agreements, though not from an economic development perspective. Why do you think these strategies I've mentioned have not been sufficient?

Garmise: I think part of it is because these strategies, while [they are] useful and add a good degree of transparency to the public investment of dollars, have traditionally only targeted a certain group of workers, either public employees or those receiving public contracts. And, from an economic development perspective, what we want in the development of quality jobs is we want to see them also being delivered in the private sector. As I said, it's not just for a set of certain groups of people, but we now have a greater need [to] have quality jobs for people who once, [a] decade ago, might have had one, such as in the manufacturing industry. But now, we have a strong association between skill levels and wage levels. And so jobs in the past that might have had…lower education levels, lower degree levels, now have a higher input.

Moderator: Let's talk more about the study itself. How did you conduct your study, and what were the key findings?

Garmise: We actually did a wide-ranging investigation of different case communities across the country. We wanted to make sure that we looked at urban communities, rural communities, and smaller suburban communities. We also wanted to ensure that we covered communities that had very different demographic makeups and that also had different industrial bases. Moreover, we looked at if they were in different phases of development, so that we included some of the younger places, those in which their development trajectory can be charted over the past couple of decades, as well as declining industrial regions. We needed to look at all of those cases to find the commonalities.

What we did is we pulled those all together, analyzed what they were doing, where their successes were. I'm going to point out some of the key findings. Some of them, I think, are driving home emerging knowledge, some of them may not be earth-shattering, but I think their repeating and reiterating of how important they are is still significant. One is that regions matter. No matter what case we looked at, whether it was urban, rural, or suburban, all of them needed to work and engage at a regional level. The region, again, was defined at the point of origin, and we would see shifting regions where different, as we talked about, aligning different strategies, whereas a workforce approach might have a slightly different regional boundary than an entrepreneurship approach. But they still were trying to work regionally and align some of these activities.

I think another thing we found that we think is pretty important, for we always hear that leadership matters, we found that in the cases where we see the greatest alignment of economic development and workforce development looking to work together and creating quality jobs and quality skills, economic development was a leader at the table. It wasn't just them working together, but they were taking a leadership role in that community to engage across these new sectors and create a whole new strategic approach.

We also find in all the cases what we call, sort of, "digging deeper," where economic development is now working with a broader range of populations looking to engage in the workforce system at new levels and recognizing the range of assets, including the range of people assets they have in their community.

There are two more findings I would like to point out. One is that we talk about innovation and entrepreneurship. Well, those are often associated with creating high-level, B.A. and above type opportunities. Well, we found that was true but we also found that these policies were also used to lever out opportunities, that they weren't just about creating new technologies but also, sort of, creating opportunities on the ground so that we weren't just creating jobs, we were creating new opportunities for the economy to thrive and for people to take advantage of.

And I think the final finding I'd like to point out is that—and this maybe is an economic development point of view—but one of the more overlooked strategies for creating quality jobs is the area of incumbent training, because once you get someone into a job, to actually advance them and grow them, a lot of that training occurs within the job itself. And that how this was used, I think, innovatively was a real…finding that needs to be shared quite widely.

Moderator: Well, the report certainly suggests that thriving and sustainable communities will need people to participate in these workforce strategies beyond economic development professionals. Tell me more about this. Who are some of the players and communities that are necessary for creating quality jobs?

Garmise: One of the things we're seeing is, again, a more strategic approach to economic development, which is where the…quality jobs focus in and that means…linking and leveraging across the community. The first and probably obviously most important partner in this is the workforce development system. And that does include the workforce investment boards and a lot of training agencies, but it also includes—which is new for a lot economic developers—is also now learning to work with the education field. And, for some, it's more familiar at the higher-level community colleges and universities, and, yes, we do see that, but we're also starting to see—and where this was not necessarily common across the cases, it did emerge as a finding—is working with K through 12 so that working more with the education world to try and build and understand pipelines. And that's probably the biggest central finding.

Then, what you will also see is, depending on certain policies and programs that will usually engage different partners—for example, entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship might then create new partnerships with the university in the areas of innovation, but it also may actually find you working with certain community development organizations on microfinance for entrepreneurship in neighborhoods.… [I]t was literally about creating new relationships in order to meet the new goals.

The other thing that I think is also worth mentioning at this point, in a lot of areas—especially when you are talking about quality job creation—clusters, or economic sectors, were a very useful way for creating those alignments. So then you'd also see chambers, associations, unions—depending on which case you're looking at—being part of the mix of this partnership building.

Moderator: The country is facing significant employment challenges now, and job creation is of utmost importance for most communities. So, given our current employment context, is making the case for creating quality jobs more or less compelling?

Garmise: It's absolutely more compelling. We are now all competing in a more global economy, in a more volatile economy, in a more dynamic place. And increasingly our ability to create higher-paying jobs depends on having people with the skills to be able to walk into those jobs. So that if you…take the main thrust of the report, which is "to create quality jobs you need quality people" and that "the alignment of workforce and economic development needs to be at the center of these activities," then the need to create quality jobs, again, becomes more important. Because, you know, the best example is when the industrial regions were declining and the jobs that were created didn't require the same skills or the workers couldn't transition. This is going to be part and parcel of how the new economy works, that it is more volatile. So, the more we have a competitive advantage is on building the skills of our workforce and creating quality jobs that are, again, aligned with those skills. So, I think, it's become much more compelling and more important than it ever has been.

Moderator: Dr. Garmise, thanks for your time.

Garmise: My pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Moderator: This concludes our podcast. We've been speaking with Dr. Shari Garmise, vice president for Knowledge Management and Development with the International Economic Development Council.

For a link to the full report, and for more podcasts on this topic and others, visit the Atlanta Fed's Web site at If you have comments or questions, please e-mail

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