WGA Winter Meeting Day 1: Workforce, technology, Ratzenberger keynote highlight session

The Western Governors, from left: Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Disaster preparedness, barriers to workforce development, and the ability of technology to impact the rural West were some of the topics discussed on Day One of the Western Governors' Association 2017 Winter Meeting. 

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WGA Chair and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard hosted 12 Western Governors at the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix on a day that also included keynotes by Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and John Raztenberger, Cheers actor and workforce development advocate. Highlights of the day included:

Keynote & Conversation with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke: The opening keynote was delivered by Chief Tooke, who spoke about the agency’s collaboration with states and local governments to ensure the best management of forests. Among other things, the chief noted:

"Like you, we recognize the need to overcome obstacles: obstacles that exist to collaboration; obstacles of insufficient funding; obstacles of insufficient markets ...We also see that there is a lack of sufficient coordination across landscapes and we see the excessive costs associated with environmental planning and environmental analysis.”

“Every American citizen that we serve deserves our very best, and deserves us to excel at customer service ... So to improve our customer service, we need to better understand what the requirements are of each of those customers and expand our best practices, and we will apply those innovative tools to overcome obstacles that get in the way of us doing that.”

Roundtable: Preparing Infrastructure for Natural Disasters: Idaho Governor Butch Otter moderated a conversation on disaster preparedness, which included these insights from panelists.

Jeffrey R. Pillon, National Association of State Energy Officials: "The risk to the nation’s infrastructure is significant when considering the potential economic and human impacts. Last year, power outages cost the U.S. $150 million; so far in 2017, we’ve had 15 weather disasters costing over $1 billion."

Bruce Hallin, Salt River Project: "Drought resilience requires significant investments, partnerships, and certainty ... Forest and watershed health depends on effective forest management.”

Lee dePalo, Regional Administrator for FEMA Region VIII: “Challenge the status quo – on Fire Management Assistance Grants, we can challenge the status quo to make the process smoother, easier, and more consistent.”

Keynote & Conversation with U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta: Secretary Acosta spoke about unlocking new opportunities for American job-seekers, especially in relation to the barriers presented by licensing requiements.

"The workplace is changing. The skills of today are not the skills of yesterday, and it's important that education keep pace."

"Today, more than one in four Americans require a license to do their job. We want to reduce unnecessary licensing and barriers to job mobility.” 

Roundtable: The Changing Face of the West: The final roundtable of the day focused on how technology and other developments  have changed the people, jobs, and cities of the region over the past quarter century. Panelists:

Richard Fry, Pew Research Center: “Employment growth from 1980 to 2015 was more rapid in occupations requiring higher social or analytical skills, which typically earn higher wages."

Ryan P. Harkins, Microsoft Corporation: “Advances in cloud computing – and the opportunities it provides – require access to broadband. ... “Our initiative has an ambitious goal: establish broadband service across the country in five years.”

Timothy D. Hodges, Gallup Inc.: “Today’s workforce has transitioned from focusing on “my paycheck” to focusing on “my purpose” in the work environment.”

Dinner Keynote with John Ratzenberger: The actor and outspoken advocate for American manufacturing and skilled labor delivered an entertaining keynote that touched on how his early years led to a career in carpentry and then to comedy -- without ever losing sight of the value of skilled labor. "Actors and celebrities and sports stars did not build our civilization," said Ratzenberger. "It was the tinkerers. The inventors. Every single industry started with one person inventing one thing."

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