User Spotlight Dr. Allison Forbes, Vice President of Research, Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) is a nonprofit organization that provides government, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders with the intelligence and technical assistance they need to formulate and execute regional job-creating economic strategies. We talked with VP of Research Dr. Allison Forbes in October 2022 about the most-pressing workforce development challenges facing communities today, how organizations can foster a culture of data-driven decision making, leading by example on diversity, equity and inclusion in economic development, and much more. Can you describe your role at CREC and your primary research interests? Allison Forbes: As VP of Research, I develop initiatives that fill gaps in information hindering regional economic development. Last year we launched two new initiatives: a “Future of Work” initiative that examines industry and technology change and considers future talent and skills needed; and “Expanding Access to Labor Market Information,” which seeks to ensure that information about labor markets is available to nonprofit, education and workforce organizations supporting young people along their career paths. These initiatives require applied research and partners who can advance practical applications of data and insights. A significant part of StatsAmerica’s audience is local and regional economic development organizations. What advice do you have for how these organizations can foster a data-driven culture to improve outcomes for their communities? How can StatsAmerica and other data-rich resources help these efforts? An important lesson that I have learned over the past four years working at CREC: It takes time, resources, creativity and dedication to effectively integrate data into decision-making processes. This applies to all stages of the process—convening decision makers, scoping research questions, gathering and synthesizing information, and delivering the information to key audiences. Be patient and don’t overextend yourselves! Local and regional EDOs are in the unique position to define and refine priorities for investment through partnerships and these partnerships can be built around commitments to advance an evidence-based practice at a regional scale, ensuring that efforts to procure, process and present data are sustainable. A first step can be co-producing a report that sources data from the state labor market information agency or from StatsAmerica. . When federal or state agencies and StatsAmerica hear from us about what information we need and how we would like to receive it, these data producers have an opportunity to refine products and services. It is also important for all of us to say, “that sounds important, but we don’t have that information,” or “that information is not easily available, but it would be valuable if we had access to it.” Pointing out challenges and resource constraints can help us to identify a way forward. In your view, what are some of the most pressing challenges communities are facing when it comes to education and workforce development? Considering these challenges, how can communities adapt to maintain a competitive workforce? I think there are a lot of missed opportunities due to a common assumption that we don’t have control over how technology affects our lives, our workplaces and our regions. There is so much about the deployment of technology that depends on human initiative and our response. There is so much about technology that is political and negotiable. Critically, for our field, our response informs whether our businesses are successful in navigating emerging markets, adjusting to changes in consumer preferences, and managing talent. We can all improve our engagement with technology today by pursuing more productive inter-generational and cross-departmental exchanges at work and promoting interdisciplinary approaches to economic development research and strategy. How can states, regions and communities prioritize equity and inclusion in economic and workforce development initiatives? Each organization needs to lead by example—walk the talk. At CREC, we pursue equity and inclusion strategies in three areas: staffing, networks and data. In staffing, we consider whether our staff bring expertise and experience that helps us to serve our clients and their constituents and whether we are sourcing talent effectively from our metropolitan area (the D.C. metro). For networks, we consider whether we are contributing to and engaged with professional development networks that are inclusive and that seek to ensure equity in the profession and its leadership roles. In data, we consider whether data collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation practices are inclusive and equitable. To make progress, we need more women and people of color in leadership roles, experts and analysts with ties to rural and low-income communities, and job seekers and employers from these communities who see a return on investment when they contribute to research and policymaking. Is there anything you’d like to share about what you’re currently working on at CREC? In late September, we presented findings on the labor market for cybersecurity talent in North Carolina. We delivered the results to a convening of the Carolina Cyber Network, a group of 14 community colleges and four-year colleges preparing students for the challenges of securing cyber systems across the state. Member schools are seeking to align curriculum with the needs of employers in manufacturing, energy, agriculture, fintech and public sectors. In attendance at the convening were three community college presidents, a state legislator, and business leaders who called for increasing awareness of challenges and opportunities in cybersecurity talent development. Our next step is to document promising practices emerging from leaders in the network.