A new strategy for public-private partnerships in Wyoming took a big step forward last week with the launch of a Next Generation Sector Partnership in Laramie County.
Contractors, tradesmen and representatives from various Laramie County construction companies met in Cheyenne to choose priorities they feel will best foster growth in the industry. Public-sector representatives sat around the perimeter of the room, with strict instructions to only watch and listen, for now.
The Next Gen strategy aims to position industry professionals as the leaders in economic growth, with the public sector (such as economic developers, educators and workforce professionals) following their lead. It’s a reversal from how such partnerships tend to operate, with the public sector frequently directing industries toward their own vision of the future. And it asks companies to do something they wouldn’t normally do: sit down with their competitors to discuss mutually beneficial progress.
The Aug. 21 meeting was facilitated by John Melville, the Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.
“I think the cooperative spirit in the room is what is going to make this successful,” he said. “The power of this is your collective priorities.”
In previous Next Gen workshops, participants from the public sector as well as various private sectors divided the state into several regions and chose an industry in each region to focus on first. In making that decision, participants considered multiple factors, including the need and potential for growth within the sectors. Participants then brainstormed specific people and companies from the chosen sectors that should be invited to participate in the partnership meetings.
The construction sector was chosen for Laramie County as a starting point, and last week’s meeting was the official launch of that partnership. The ultimate goal is for such Next Gen partnerships to develop in several sectors within each region.
During the meeting, the construction industry reps landed on three categories for opportunity:
- Recruiting talent in both entry-level and skilled labor
- Shifting the perception of construction trades from that of a “plan B” to a viable and lucrative career choice
- Business development via policy, i.e. ensuring local companies are given a real chance to bid on local projects
At the end of the workshop, Melville asked for volunteers from the room to champion one or more of these opportunities by participating in a conference call and an additional meeting, likely in October.
Each of the three categories had multiple volunteers for champions.
“It’s vital to cooperate and put aside our competing interests,” said Quint Davis, the chief estimator for Simon Contractors in Cheyenne, after the meeting. “This (strategy) has the potential to bear fruit.”
He personally volunteered to champion all three opportunities, adding that he doesn’t see them as separate concerns, but closely related and difficult to separate.
After the industry representatives concluded the meeting and left the room, the public sector representatives were invited to the table for a follow-up discussion.
Melville noted how the industry professionals had enthusiastically stepped up to take ownership of these opportunities, and encouraged the public sector to continue to “sit tight” and let them take the lead.
He also emphasized the goal for this partnership is long term, with the ultimate intention of taking some of the responsibility off of the public sector and putting it on the industry itself. What they’ve started with this launch is just the beginning, he said.
In the coming months, the remaining regions throughout the state will host their own Next Gen launch meetings.
“It was exciting to have the opportunity to witness this process, and we are looking forward to watching the Laramie County construction Next Generation Sector Partnership team build a long-term partnership to tackle any hurdle,” said Laurie Knowlton, policy analyst with the Department of Workforce Services.