Manufacturing to knowledge economy in Utah: How?

Picture 5Utah is preparing to move from an economy based largely on mining and manufacturing to a more knowledge-based economy.  Springfield is also facing the challenge of an economy in transition, so what can we learn from Utah’s efforts?  In a recent report (29-page PDF), Voices for Utah Children, in conjunction with the Working Poor Families Project, examines the current trends of Utah’s economy and makes policy recommendations based on their analysis.

In order for the transition to a knowledge-based economy to be successful, the state must encourage more people, both young students and those already in the workforce, to go on to post-secondary education.  Nearly 2/3 of the state’s primary working population (ages 25-54) lacked post-secondary degrees.  Working adults will be needed to fill jobs as they are created, but they must have the education and technical skills to do so.

For many poor working families, the cost of college tuition is a barrier.  Tuition for the lowest-priced community college in Utah was roughly 14% of the average poor working family’s income.  In California, this number is only 6%.  The report recommends that more need-based financial aid be made available and that the state provide incentives for colleges to attract and retain adult students.  As part of this effort, colleges need to be able to track their students and to have remedial assistance available.

The report recognizes, however, that citizens without a college degree play an important support role in our economy – staffing restaurants, gas stations, and other such businesses that keep the economy running.  These individuals must not be forgotten, and that’s why the report asserts the need to make GED training available for more than 97,000 Utahn adults that do not posses a high school diploma.  This should include prisoner education and ESL classes to make the best use of Utah’s human capital.

What can Springfield learn from this?  The message is clear – adult and lifelong education is vital.  There are many in Springfield who are in need of ESL and GED classes.  Those that do have a high school diploma could play a much more versatile role in the economy if they had even an associate’s degree from a local community college.  Springfield faces a similar problem of transition to a knowledge-based economy.  Education is key, and Springfield will not achieve vibrancy without it.

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