I recently traveled to Winnipeg to present the findings of our latest State of Manufacturing® survey to the annual meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference, which was attended by some 400 state legislators and provincial policymakers. The experience revealed a couple significant insights and provided meaningful context for the Q&A interview I conducted in this issue with Minnesota State’s extraordinary new chancellor.
The fact that so many policymakers were drawn to discover how manufacturing executives describe their ongoing opportunities and challenges showed me (again) that manufacturers are increasingly getting acknowledged for being the job-creating engines of our economies. Where 10 years ago we sometimes struggled to find legislators who even knew their in-district manufacturers, this conference revealed how those relationships today are much stronger and more interactive. Most of today’s policymakers—of all political persuasions—closely monitor how they can help their constituent manufacturers stay competitive in an increasingly complex marketplace.
(For the record, I also couldn’t help drawing more than a little pride that Enterprise Minnesota’s 10-year-old experiment in public opinion surveys, still unique, keeps finding new and diverse audiences, even internationally.)
I wasn’t surprised that most attendees were especially anxious about the skills gap, but I was impressed how policymakers in Winnipeg emphasized the value of solving the skills gap issue through public/private cooperation. I didn’t hear one person proclaim that government could solve the problem if only we’d throw enough money at it. Nor did I hear anyone disparage government involvement and assert that the marketplace will fix it. (It won’t.) Everyone seemed to conclude that the skills gap should be addressed with a sense of collaboration—a point of view that gets my enthusiastic endorsement.
Which leads me to my interview with Devinder Malhotra, Minnesota State’s newly appointed chancellor. Malhotra has a big job, and he knows it. He faces shrinking enrollment, severe budget constraints and quickly evolving workforce demands. He acknowledges that Minnesota State is the essential cog in preparing our demographically shrinking workforce to handle the needs of future economies. In response, he delivered one of my favorite quotes I’ve seen in the pages of our magazine.
“We cannot be overwhelmed by our budgetary stresses, as severe and challenging as they are,” he told me. “We will not be defined by our constraints, financial or otherwise. We will be defined by the innate potential and promise we deliver to the state of Minnesota.”
Part of that mission, he says, will be public/private collaboration. His presidents, he says, “have to be at the table in shaping the economic, social, and cultural agendas of their regions. We are not only stewards of the academic experience of our students, we’re also stewards of the communities from which we draw our students, and where our students go back and work.”
Bravo. It is an interesting interview with a compelling character. I urge you to read it.
Bob Kill is president and CEO of Enterprise Minnesota