On February 23, 2016, Director of Economic Development Marjette Upshur presented “Lynchburg’s Economic Ecosystem: Equipping businesses, empowering citizens through creative workforce development” to Lynchburg City Council. The presentation specifically outlined two new initiatives, TechHire and CO.STARTERS.
The following includes excerpts from the narrative presentation by Ms. Upshur to City Council:
“Two weeks ago, City Council heard an update on the City’s plan to address a poverty rate of 20% +. A focus on workforce development was highlighted, along with a continued commitment to the Bridges out of Poverty Initiative.
The Office of Economic Development is placing a strategic focus on entrepreneurship and economic empowerment to help close this gap for Lynchburg’s citizens with barriers to employment.
Economic development is incredibly multi-faceted. We have organized our work in economic development around six strategic priorities.
- Business Attraction includes efforts to position and market Lynchburg as a destination for business location.
- Business Retention and Expansion is a critical area of growth in the City as we know that the majority of job creation comes from the expansion of existing businesses. We do this work by providing resources and support to both retain businesses in the City and encourage expansion.
- Infrastructure encompasses existing transportation, communication and utility networks. We work in partnership to ensure that the infrastructure needs of the business community are served.
- Talent Development is a key recruitment and retention tool for the City. We are working in partnership with educational institutions, workforce support organizations and employers to create a pipeline of talented workers.
- Entrepreneurship includes developing and supporting an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship, including educational opportunities, funding sources and mentoring/coaching
- Economic Empowerment is a citizen’s ability to bring about economic change for him/herself. This is woven into the programs and initiatives that have come out of the Office of Economic Development to strengthen our local economy.
Today we are highlighting two programs that support talent development, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.
This figure represents a Lynchburg citizen – man, woman, young, old, etc.
We are developing two ways for citizens to enter or reenter the workforce or start his/her own business. First I’ll walk her through the TechHire initiative.
TechHire is a White House Initiative designed to prepare a pipeline of workers for 21st century jobs. TechHire aims to increase the speed and agility with which we train new, skilled professionals. TechHire provides Lynchburg a platform to expand models for training that prepare student for the workforce in months, not years. The TechHire initiative began in the spring of 2015 with 20 communities across the country.
The City of Lynchburg was designated a TechHire community in August 2015. In December, the Department of Labor announced $100 million to support communities who are using the TechHIre platform to create a pipeline to train citizens with barriers to employment through accelerated learning programs. The Office of Economic Development has engaged 14 employer partners who have pledged paid apprenticeships and will make application to the Department of Labor in March for $2.2 million.
The Department of Labor grant supports accelerated training programs for citizens age 17-29 facing a barrier to employment in H1B industries– Health Care, Advanced Manufacturing, and IT. To date, our office is working with Lynchburg employers to provide a projected 468 paid apprenticeships over four years to citizens that complete an accelerated learning program.
We will work with our partners at nonprofit organizations and agencies across the City and the region to identify people to enter the TechHire pipeline.
A citizen will enter an accelerated learning program either provided by a training partner or taught by the employer. Employers agree to hire the student upon satisfactory completion of the program. The grant will cover reimbursement costs up to 90% for training and apprenticeship.
For example, Lynchburg City Schools is seeking new talent to fill gaps in their IT department. Lynchburg City Schools has pledged to train and provide an apprenticeship to 2 participants per year. The participant will spend 8-12 weeks in an accelerated learning program to develop basic skills, then will enter a 3-6 month paid apprenticeship.
Next, we will walk through a new opportunity for a Lynchburg citizen to start his/her own business through the CO.STARTERS program.
CO.STARTERS is a nine-week program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn business ideas into action and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving business. CO.STARTERS was created in Chattanooga, TN, and has been successfully implemented in more than 40 communities across the country.
CO.STARTERS is a collaborative process with a small and supportive group of like-minded entrepreneurs. CO.STARTERS is led by a local, trained facilitator who will help participants identify the assumptions about why and how a business will work and then talk to customers in order to validate the idea. This approach enables a participant to rapidly uncover flaws in the business concept and find viable models more quickly.
Each week, seasoned Lynchburg entrepreneurs will speak to the group on a topic and serve as mentors to participants, creating meaningful relationships in the entrepreneurial community. The CO.STARTERS canvas leads participants through all of the steps to create a sustainable, viable business.
In December, the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority was awarded a $60,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to grow and support our community of entrepreneurs. The funding will provide the seed to launch our local CO.STARTERS, provide $40,000 in small business grants, provide 100-plus pro bono service hours and build a web portal for future entrepreneurial resources and educational support.
We have received so much interest that we have had to create another cohort this spring to meet the demand. Applicants are represented from across the City and with a wide array of business ideas.
Our office has looked toward The Democracy Collaborative for guidance on best practice in economic empowerment. The Democracy Collaborative is an organization whose mission is to catalyze the transformation of our economy and work to build community wealth based on broadening stewardship over capital, democracy at the workplace, stabilizing community and emphasizing locality, equitable and inclusive growth and environmental, social and institutional sustainability.
So, what are our next steps to support entrepreneurship and economic empowerment efforts?
- Begin the CO.STARTERS classes – 2 cohorts beginning March 14th
- Celebrate success in June with a week-long focus on innovation in the City – we are in the planning stages for this now.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these exciting new initiatives with you. We are happy to answer any questions you may have.”