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Next week, the San Diego Workforce Partnership will host the 2010 Workforce Summit, with the theme “Solutions for San Diego’s Economic Growth and Prosperity.” The event focuses on the varying viewpoints of San Diego-area economic leaders.

To kick off the conversation, we’ve asked people who will appear as summit panelists to answer questions about San Diego and its economy. We’ll present their answers over the next few days.

We encourage you to ask these experts your own questions. Write them here in the comments or send them to me, grant@voiceofsandiego.org. We’ll post their responses as we receive them.

Here’s our first question for the panelists:

What have we been doing wrong? Did we drop the ball somewhere?

Mark Cafferty, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Workforce Partnership:

Focusing mainly in the field where I have worked for the past 17 years, I feel we have not created a framework for job training, retraining and broad-based lifelong learning that moves at the same speed and pace as business and industry. This slower pace limits the value we can create for our economy and our community.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership receives money from the federal government (and other funders) to prepare local residents for career opportunities, mobility and advancement. However, we are operating under the same legislation, rules and regulations that we were operating under in 1998, when San Diego’s unemployment rate was 3.5% and the national unemployment rate was 4.5%.

Clearly, our economic conditions are drastically different today than in 1998. Today’s businesses, industries, technologies and occupations are drastically different as well. We need to create job training programs that are demand-driven, flexible, timely and efficient. The rules, regulations and restrictions have been limited, but we need to provide job training on a much larger scale in order to best prepare and advance the workers of today and tomorrow.

Cecilia Estolano, chief strategist of Green for All:

Regions across the country are starting to realize that they need to adopt a comprehensive economic development strategy if they are to achieve job and income growth for a broad spectrum of their population. This type of comprehensive strategy has seven essential elements:

  • investment in infrastructure
  • a focus on the manufacturing sector
  • encouragement of creativity and constant innovation
  • leveraging the diverse roles of government to achieve broad economic gains
  • aligning education and workforce systems with sectoral strategies
  • involvement of the labor community
  • including low-income communities and communities of color as central participants in designing and implementing the strategy.

San Diego has distinguished itself as a region in many of these elements, particularly in its relentless focus on innovation. However, it could benefit from more closely aligning its education, workforce development and sector strategies in a way that benefits a broader spectrum of its population. By bringing together its robust network of community based organizations, its labor community and its extraordinary institutions of higher education around its key sectors, San Diego may be able to leverage even greater results.

Len Hering, vice president for business services and administration, University of San Diego:

Much of what has put San Diego in the position it is today can be summed up simply as a lack of sound business practices to control spending and save for the future. It has hurt the San Diego taxpayer and has certainly caused lost opportunities. Herb Klein told me once in my office that “it does no good to dwell over the past but past performance does need to inform the future.”

That said, what do we need for the future? We need a comprehensive plan to control spending and make sure plans for city programs and employment do not overburden revenues. There needs to be a better strategic plan built on priorities, not districts, for the preservation of infrastructure without having to wait for a catastrophic failure. There needs to be a more aggressive planning arm that is driven by the mayor’s office, one that develops the political power and consensus necessary to make sure projects don’t become wards of the court.

We need to focus on smart urban infill, mass transit that works and not more lanes that consume property, renewable energy projects that look to take advantage of cooperation as a substitute for competition, and better schools that yield better results for students and higher pay for performance proven teachers.

There also needs to be some judicial reform that prevents a few unaccountable, disgruntled, misguided and supposedly well-meaning citizens from holding for ransom an approved project which ultimately cost the tax payer hundreds of millions of dollars and real jobs.

Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of extended studies and public programs, University of California, San Diego:

My concern for the United States over the last decade has been our unwillingness to come to grips with what it means to compete in a global economy.

America does not have a worldwide monopoly on innovation, entrepreneurship or business creation capabilities. These qualities are distributed more equally around the globe than they ever before in history.

Too many Americans are waiting for the old innovative industries, such as automobile manufacturing, to come back. Too many U.S. workers are blaming other entrepreneurial nations for producing cheaper products.

In fact, other industrial nations are getting increasingly better at what they do and are educating a greater share of their population to be competitive in the global workplace. China and India are outstanding examples. America has dropped the ball because our industry has not responded nimbly enough to the opportunities that new technologies and global competition represent. To do this, the United States must invest in both R&D and workforce development, so that we can face these new realities head on and be genuinely competitive.

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Part two has been posted.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership Workforce Summit takes place at the Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall on Thursday, November 18, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. A breakfast will be followed by a keynote address by Robert Reich, former United States Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

Edited by Grant Barrett, engagement editor for voiceofsandiego.org. Drop him a line at grant@voiceofsandiego.org, call him at (619) 550-5666, and follow him on Twitter @grantbarrett.

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