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WED Initiative Studies the Impact of Workforce Fluctuations on Local Economies

WED Initiative

by Joe Savrock (January 2009)

passmore_sml.jpgChanges in the strength of a region’s workforce can have widespread implications for the region’s economic health, as demonstrated by the work of a Penn State research group.

Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development (WED) Initiative analyzes commerce in various communities and counties throughout Pennsylvania to determine the impact that a business has on its region. The Initiative serves employers, industry partnerships, nonprofit organizations, and government entities primarily through the application of Penn State resources to conduct various types of workforce assessments. It marks Penn State as a key resource for economic and workforce analysis.

baker_rose.jpgWED is a collaboration of two research bodies—the Institute for Research in Training and Development (IRTD) in Penn State’s College of Education, and the Center for Regional Economic and Workforce Analysis in Penn State Outreach. The WED Initiative was chartered by formal written agreement between David H. Monk, dean of the College of Education, and Craig Weidemann, vice president for Outreach.

“Effective workforce education and development responds to current and anticipated needs for workers,” says David Passmore, IRTD director. “The economy—that is, the sale of goods and services to producers and consumers—created these needs. Understanding the links between production, consumption, and employment—and how these affect training needs—is a major policy analysis issue and opportunity.”

The WED Initiative has developed a macroeconomic model for every county in Pennsylvania, allowing the group to quickly produce timely reports, known as the Economic & Workforce Brief series, that spell out the economic consequences of newsworthy occurrences.

“We are able to link changes and trends in the macroeconomy of Pennsylvania and the nation to consequent changes in the employment and income of Pennsylvanians,” says Rose Baker, director of the Center for Regional Economic and Workforce Analysis.

“Information about changes in the amount and kind of employment opportunities created by economic changes points to promising education and training opportunities as well as potential issues and problems that need to be faced by the workforce education and development system,” explains Baker. “The WED Initiative performs these assessments using the best, world-class economic and demographic analysis and forecasting models available.”

Baker and Passmore have published more than 80 studies in their growing Economic & Workforce Brief portfolio. Each Brief is a one–page macroeconomic report of how gains or losses of jobs in a region’s signature industry affect total jobs, payroll, and property taxes in a county or group of counties. Typically, a Brief describes how every 100 jobs in a particular industry affect the health of its region’s other business and economic aspects.

The breadth and diversity of the WED Initiative’s work is reflected in the titles of some of the reports:

•    Role of Coal Mining in the Economy of Allegheny & Washington Counties (pdf, 224kb)

•    Role of Central Banking Functions in the Economy of Northeast Pennsylvania (pdf, 228kb)

•    Role of Chemical Manufacturing in the Economy of Philadelphia County (pdf, 224kb)

Amid changing local economic situations, public officials, workforce and economic development leaders, and other professionals frequently ask the WED Initiative to produce new macroeconomic studies. After receiving a request, the WED Initiative is able to produce and release a new Brief in as little as one hour, thanks to its comprehensive database of county-by-county workforce data, which puts information at its fingertips. Because of the short turnaround time, the information in a new Brief can help quickly frame issues surrounding community change for people affected by the change.