Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanks for Homegrown Businesses

As the Thanksgiving holiday arrives, I am certainly thankful and honored to be serving in my fourth year as President of MVCC. I am also thankful for the incredible opportunities I have to call on local businesses to better see their operations and listen to their issues and needs. I keep my ears open to better understand how MVCC can be aligned to help local businesses succeed in these ever-changing times. We can always be more successful educating their current employees or placing our interns or graduates in their operations. These visits often include a behind the scenes tour and this is where I’m consistently amazed at what goes on right here in the Mohawk Valley.

I have found that local businesses here:
• Produce 50% of all straps on helmets for firefighters in this country.
• Include one that ships so much product around the world, they rank in the top 5 customers of Federal Express.
• Include five with manufacturing plants in China – challenged to find 50 well-trained technicians locally some pursue 500 manual labor workers in China.
• Produce nanotechnology components utilized in every Motorola cell phone sold around the world.
• Produce every uniform for the U.S. forest service.
• Package 55% of all retail olive oil & 80% of all olive oil on Wal-Mart shelves.
• Include one that dominates its entire industry east of the Mississippi river.
• Produce every glove used by the Transportation Security Administration staff in every U.S. airport.
• Include one that does business with companies in more than 100 countries.
• Include one that produces large video screens in use at sports stadiums throughout the country.

These are local, homegrown, home-based businesses that are not just surviving – they’re thriving! And these are businesses additional to solid employment opportunities in healthcare and emerging growth in cybersecurity-related industries. A recent editorial in the Observer-Dispatch by Alice Savino highlighted the fact that, contrary to the common experience, jobs are available. However a big challenge we face is that employers and potential employees aren’t always finding one another.

When talking to employers, I hear a reoccurring theme about skill gaps they're finding in many job candidates. Even more than people well-trained for specific jobs, employers need people who are punctual, respectful, possess a positive attitude, have a willingness to learn, and (and I'm not kidding here) read, write, and utilize mathematics. More than anything, employers want people who can reason critically, solve problems and, above all…think! MVCC has a workplace success curriculum that addresses these gaps. But, frankly, the need seems greater. Every degree and certificate program could, and should, integrate these themes as much as possible. It will make our graduates even more marketable! If we can further develop our local workforce around these basics, small businesses - and the entire Mohawk Valley region - will grow more effectively.

I think we’d all be more thankful of what we have in the Mohawk Valley if we could more easily recognize that success in this region is no longer (and likely won’t be again) found in a few major businesses with 5,000 employees each but, rather, is more likely found in a hundred or more companies with 250 employees. We’re not there yet, but based on the successfully homegrown companies like those listed above, we’re well on our way – we just don’t know it! If you have any comments on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.