At the heart of effective economic development is regional cooperation. In 2004, the Department of Labor launched WIRED Initiatives across the U.S. to improve regional efforts for talent development and effective economic development strategies. For over a year, leaders from the Wired65 region, an area spanning 26 counties and two states, have been been working to improve the area’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.
For this feature in our Creative Capstones series, we interviewed Debbie Wesslund, program manager for the Wired65 region, about the area’s efforts to launch Kix.com – The Kentucky Indiana Exchange, an interactive community platform to facilitate networks for employment opportunities and discussions about regional challenges.
Creative Class Group (CCG): Tell us about Wired65. What communities make up the region?
Debbie Wesslund: Wired65 is an initiative that brings together civic leaders in a 26-county, bi-state area around the need to support its human capital – or “talent.” This region is anchored by the Louisville, KY MSA and the Elizabethtown, KY MSA. The Ohio River divides the states of Indiana and Kentucky, but the economy reaches across county and state lines, forming a region with a strong sense of place and sharing talent. The region includes both rural communities and urban areas, with strong economic sectors like transportation, distribution, and logistics; health care; manufacturing; and agriculture evident throughout. The area is home to a vibrant arts scene, from Louisville’s orchestra, ballet, galleries, and theater, to quality regional sports and entertainment attractions. Tourism is a strong sector as well, including Bourbon County, horse racing, historical places, natural beauty, and water recreation among the draws.
CCG: Why is the Wired65 region a special place to live? What makes the region a unique, authentic community?
Wesslund: This community is authentic because citizens share resources across political boundaries and work together to support the economy. No community can exist on its own, and regional leaders recognize the importance of leveraging assets and celebrating successes. An example of community is the collaboration among regional post-secondary institutions – HIRE (Higher Income Requires Education) – where they collaborate around initiatives to increase the education attainment throughout the region. Tuition reciprocity across state lines was an early successful initiative.
CCG: Describe the efforts of Wired65. What initiatives have been accomplished as a result of the engagement?
Wesslund: First, Wired65 spent months on developing a regional competitiveness strategy, which lays the groundwork for long-term regional collaboration. A comprehensive assessment of the strengths and challenges of the region, the TIP Report: Regional Competitiveness Strategy, laid out broad goals in talent and economic development:
- Fix the education pipeline: Focus on smoothing transition points within the P-20 education system. Make learning relevant to growth industries and make the connection between education, income, and prospects for the future.
- Prepare for “21st century” jobs: Provide cutting-edge vocational training in high school and better align post-secondary programs with the needs of local business.
- Create a talent magnet: Promote the region as a world-class destination for 21st century talent by highlighting the region’s educational, innovation, and research assets.
- Invest in priority sectors: Invest in economic and workforce development projects that strengthen the region’s priority sectors – health care, life sciences, logistics, human resource management, energy technologies, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, entrepreneurship, and tourism.
- Focus on quality of place: Take a regional view and use the region’s quality of place as a recruitment and retention tool for knowledge workers.
Next, it invested grant funds in projects that lined up with these goals, and had the best potential for regional impact. These initiatives were diverse – career education in high schools, entrepreneurship training, student invention contests, marketing local agriculture, health care training, IT training, regional leadership development, and more.
Finally, the Wired65 leadership is working to sustain this regional collaboration through continued commitment of time and identification of new resources.
CCG: Explain Kix.com. What role will the website play for the region?
Wesslund: Kix.com is a web-based portal committed not only to helping regional job seekers find employment and employers find talent, but to connecting an entire region and turning it into a online community. It’s a “town square” where employers, educators, job seekers, students, entrepreneurs, government officials, and others can come together to talk and share ideas and insights that help people in our region grow and prosper. It gives users access to a wide range of jobs, resumes, training opportunities, and valuable tools. It has a rich resource of labor market information and employer growth projections. It also features constantly updated content on regional events and news items from the region, particularly related to job growth, employers, and education.
CCG: What makes Kix.com different from other online community platforms?
Wesslund: It is a place where “real time” collaboration can take place. It combines elements of navigation (how to find your way around the labor market), information (updated content on current items of interest in the region – ones that might not show up in other media sources), communication (social networking among users, along with direct access to a wide range of services), and education (direct links to education providers for class-size or online education). No other site that we are aware of combines all of these elements the way the Kix.com site does.
CCG: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Wesslund: We are very encouraged by the first month of usage, as large numbers of employers and residents are finding their way to the site. We are also interested in looking at users that are showing up from other states, as this is already beginning to give us intelligence about where we may want to focus some of our energy in attracting even more talent to our region.