VEDP’s CEO is replicating a top workforce program — again
UPDATED AUG. 28
In 2007, when Stephen Moret was CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber in Louisiana, he had a career-changing moment.
A new employee from Georgia had raved about her state’s innovative workforce development program, so he arranged to take a tour. “It’s probably something the Georgia people regret to this day,” jokes Moret, now president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).
“I’ve never been more impressed with a single economic or workforce development program than I was with Georgia Quick Start,” he recalls. “It was just so impressive.”
Moret was so impressed, in fact, that when he was tapped as Louisiana’s secretary of economic development in 2008, his first order of business was to replicate Georgia’s Quick Start program — and improve upon it. And he hired the second-ranked Georgia Quick Start official to run it.
That became Louisiana’s FastStart program. Launched that same year, it provides prospective companies with free recruitment and training services as long as they commit to creating a set number of jobs in the state.
FastStart quickly eclipsed Georgia as the top-ranked workforce development program in the nation. Business Facilities Magazine deemed it the “gold standard” for such programs. During the past 10 years, FastStart has developed custom workforce solutions for companies including Benteler, Electronic Arts, Gardner Denver, GE Capital, IBM and ConAgra.
Now Moret’s set to do it again here in Virginia, as he prepares the VEDP to create a “world-class, turnkey, customized workforce recruitment and training incentive program” based on the Georgia and Louisiana initiatives.
“Every time you create something new, you can kind of say, ‘Well, what would you do differently if you had to do it over?’” Moret says. “I just saw this as a big opportunity for Virginia. [It’s] something I’ve already seen work [and it’s] particularly powerful for the smaller metro and rural regions where companies are worried about … [finding] enough quality talent.”
VEDP’s new program will be focused on economic development projects — new facilities or expansions of existing ones — that Virginia is competing with other states to land, mostly manufacturing plants, corporate headquarters, distribution centers and software-development facilities.
Moret has hired Mike Grundmann, VEDP’s new senior vice president of workforce solutions, to head the program. Grundmann is a 20-year veteran of Georgia’s Quick Start and was director of advanced manufacturing for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Working for Quick Start, Grundmann oversaw the development of more than 100 custom workforce solutions for companies including Ciba Vision, Pirelli Tire, Amazon, Sony Music and Gatorade.
By this time next year, Moret expects to have hired 12 full-time employees toward an eventual staff of 50 that will be devoted to Virginia’s new workforce solutions program. VEDP expects to begin work on pilot projects by the end of this year. By its fifth year, Moret expects that the program will be providing workforce solutions for 100 economic development projects in the commonwealth each year. The General Assembly allocated $7 million to fund the program’s launch and operating costs, including hiring staff and purchasing equipment.
VEDP staff will work quickly to market Virginia’s assets to the client companies and will tour facilities and interview company leaders to understand their specific hiring needs, business models and processes, Grundmann explains.
Says Moret: “We’re selling not just customization; we’re also selling speed. Sometimes you’ll have a company say, ‘I’ve got a plant in Germany. I essentially want one just like that in the United States, and I want to have it up as quickly as possible.’”
In the current low unemployment environment, recruiting and training employees is a service companies find very attractive, Moret says. And they’ll find it especially valuable, he adds, when they learn that it would cost them three to four times as much to develop the same level of customized recruiting and training services that VEDP can offer for free. (VEDP estimates it will spend $800 to $1,000 per job position for recruiting and training.)
A key part of that service is recruiting people who are a good match for the company’s culture and values, Grundmann says. “When a company is building a new plant, they’re excited about all the latest and greatest [technological innovations]. They’re also excited about the opportunity to build a culture from scratch,” he says.
“That’s one of the big advantages of the pre-employment training,” Moret says. “Are people showing up on time? Are they exhibiting the skills that you need? And how are they interacting with other folks? Those are all things that help them get to a better fit.”
VEDP staff also will develop custom training materials for new employees.
“It is not only extremely customized, but very rich in illustrations, 3-D animations, video, everything to make it more visual. The whole idea is to shorten the new-hire learning curve,” Grundmann says.
Adds Moret: “We’re not producing any credentials … [or] degrees. … It’s literally recruiting and training people not just to be a welder or an electrician but to be a welder for this particular company, this particular plant.”
Prospective workers will train on the actual equipment they’ll be using, usually in the same factories where they’ll eventually be working. VEDP will get the process started and then will partner with the commonwealth’s community colleges, which will implement the training services.
“Virginia’s community colleges have long played a critical role in meeting the training needs of businesses, both those that are new to the commonwealth, as well as those expanding here,” says Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “We’re excited about this program and what it will mean for the individuals and businesses that we serve, as well as the impact for Virginia’s growing reputation.”
Back on top
Virginia’s program is well-positioned for success, Moret says. “We got to the No. 1 … [workforce] ranking in Louisiana with far less to work with than we have in Virginia. We’ve got one of the best public education systems in the country and one of the best higher-education systems. We’ve got great community college facilities.”
Another feature that will make Virginia’s program stand out from those in Georgia and Louisiana, Moret adds, is that VEDP will give client companies a choice between using its fast-track customized workforce program or receiving a Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP) grant that will provide funding so the company can create its own recruitment and training program.
However, Moret is confident that when companies learn how much expertise and added value VEDP’s staff will bring to the table, they will choose its program.
Moret sees the initiative as a key component in raising Virginia to the top of all the major national business rankings. In July, Virginia regained its prestigious No. 1 ranking on CNBC’s annual America’s Top States for Business report. That ranking was largely due to Virginia landing Amazon’s $5 billion East Coast headquarters (HQ2), a coup that Moret helped accomplish.
“I think what we can do here will be far better than what Georgia and Louisiana have … and that’s not taking anything away from them. We have the advantage of hindsight, and we’re starting from scratch,” Moret says.
“We’ve got a much stronger starting position, a much stronger set of existing assets and if we deliver really, really well and market it really aggressively, I think we’ll get there quickly. Our public goal is to get ranked in the top two to three in the country within three years and shooting for No. 1 within five [years]. I’m absolutely 1,000% certain we’ll hit the first [goal] and I think there’s a very good chance we’re going to hit the second one too.”
CORRECTION: The print version of this story incorrectly stated the companies with which Louisiana's FastStart company has worked. This story has been updated with the correct information.