Only a couple of weeks after our March workshop on Building Lasting DownTOWN/GOWN Partnerships, our friends and colleagues at CEDAS hosted an event at Middlesex Community College (MXCC) on how community colleges are leveraging resources to meet community workforce needs. While this topic was touched on at our workshop, with Enfield’s Assistant Town Planner Courtney Hendricson and Asnuntuck Community College President James Lombella describing how they’re partnering to meet the town’s needs, the CEDAS event delved more deeply into emerging workforce trends in Connecticut, namely the expected growth in media-based jobs and a looming shortage of skilled manufacturing workers.

According to MXCC’s Center for New Media, Connecticut can expect an 11.7% job growth in all media categories – arts, sports and media, and entertainment through 2020 (the national average is 4.3%). And according to Marjorie Valentin, Associate Dean of Three Rivers Community College, without training there will be a critical skills gap of new and existing manufacturing employees, as an aging skilled workforce leaves the field and a stigma of the profession remains, leaving a shortage of skilled workers that threatens the future of manufacturing in Southeastern CT.

MXCC's Center for New Media has state of the art technology to provide students with hands-on training.

MXCC’s Center for New Media has state of the art technology to provide students with hands-on training.

In response, these and several other community colleges are partnering directly with manufacturers like Electric Boat, who offer input into the curriculum to ensure graduating students have the skills necessary to perform. And MXCC recently opened a beautiful, state-of-the-art Center for New Media, complete with high-tech classrooms, a high-def studio, a video control room, green room, audio production studio, and a radio station that will broadcast on 107.5 FM.

While it was impressive to see and hear how much our community colleges have to offer today’s students, truly preparing them to succeed in a competitive workforce, what really struck me was our need to think beyond just our downtown borders when building strategic partnerships. While we should absolutely strive to create fruitful relationships between our main street organizations and local anchor institutions, we also need to keep in mind that as a state, our successes and failures are often shared. So while Windsor may not have a community college within its borders, it may have high school students and a manufacturer who could benefit from a training program offered in Norwich. Meanwhile, a student can benefit from learning medical animation in Middletown, working at a downtown Hartford hospital during the day before going home to Portland at night.

Offering attractive, inviting downtowns and Main Streets with a variety of housing, businesses and resources accommodates a population that is fluid not just over the course of a lifespan, but often over the course of a day! By being mindful that a wider, regional or even state-wide partnership can benefit our towns and downtowns at a very local level we ensure our successes are complementary, not exclusive.