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Local economic development and the skills gap: Observations on the case of Tampa, Florida

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the ‘skills gap’ concerns that are increasingly prevalent in the USA and globally. In particular, the paper explores the current skills gap debate as a component of the American economy. This is an important issue as there is an increased economic uncertainty and global competition impacting many sectors. The paper specifically defines the current skills gap dilemma with respect to the USA and uses the Tampa, FL example of the practical implications of these concerns using recent survey and focus group data. Design/methodology/approach: The research for this paper includes an outline of the economic development structures in place in Tampa, FL, a description of the existing mandate(s) to improve workforce training; the review of a key recent, public record report on workforce skills; and, the results of a focus group developed using key stakeholders. Initially, a public record document report titled Clarus Corporation (2013) ‘Hillsborough Community College: Workforce Development Scan’ was reviewed to provide context and preliminary data to guide the research. In the second phase, a survey was conducted to develop a focus group of 18 key stakeholders in Hillsborough County. Nine of these stakeholders represented the education sector. These were purposefully selected from the Tampa Bay Higher Education Alliance (TBHEA) which represents approximately 30 regionally accredited academic institutions in the Tampa community (TBHEA, n.d.). In addition, another nine respondents were selected by purposeful selection representing employers who had experience with workforce training and development initiatives., Findings: The group survey conducted for this paper confirms concerns by both employers and educators with respect to the existing and the future skill sets of employees. In particular, respondents note that basic skills such as communication and technical skills need more attention. Also, the focus group respondents confirm the importance of technical service certification. Fundamentally, economic development professionals, educators and employers need to develop and implement strategies and action plans to ensure that the skills gap be identified correctly and properly addressed. These initiatives must be developed with broad stakeholder input and these initiatives must be viewed as dynamic reflecting changing circumstances. Research limitations/implications: This research should be viewed as exploratory in nature. The research could serve as a template to develop and track the concerns and issues of key stakeholders in the economic development process with respect to skills in the workforce on a regional or indeed a statewide basis., Practical implications: Nations, states and local governments are more active in structuring workforce development support mechanisms and specific training opportunities to assist employees and businesses. All levels of government highlight the fact that they have skilled, competitive employees to assist in recruiting new companies to consider locating in their respective jurisdictions and in retaining companies. Social implications: Having a clear understanding of the skills being demanded by employers as they strive to remain globally competitive is important. Local economic development officials, academicians and employers must be on the same page. Although relationships between these sectors are critical flexibility and adaptability are key to reflect changing demands. Originality/value: The paper provides empirical evidence of the perceptions employers and educators have with respect to the skills gap issue in a fast growth jurisdiction. This jurisdiction promotes itself as having an abundant and skilled labor force. Data suggest that there are some concerns emerging from stakeholders.