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Workforce Policy Summit Wrap-Up

Written by Brent Orrell

Senior Fellow, Domestic Policy

American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

On April 16, AEI and the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County hosted the Central Valley Workforce Summit in Visalia, California. The conference provided a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities facing the Central Valley, particularly in education, training, and employment. 

The Central Valley’s unique dynamics make it a fascinating case study for understanding the challenges of rural America more broadly. Long dominated by farming and agribusiness, the Central Valley’s economy is rapidly evolving, influenced by trends in immigration, environmental policy, and technology. At the same time, communities in this region suffer from relatively low rates of family formation, civic participation, and education and high rates of crime. 

The summit featured insightful discussions led by top experts in workforce development, education, training, socioeconomic development, and agriculture policy. Panelists discussed issues such as the state of the Central Valley’s economy and workforce, the vital role of education and skills-training programs, the challenges facing Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs nationally and locally, and the future of the agriculture workforce. The summit concluded with a conversation among local leaders reflecting on the perspectives offered during the day’s panels.

We came away with a deeper appreciation of the importance of building social capital, including family and community health, in the region and the need for flexible education and training systems and partnerships with local businesses. We also noted the importance of local leadership in setting priorities and strategies and developing programs aligned to community needs and opportunities.

The insights from the conference remind us of rural regions’ resilience and potential. Moving forward, it’s crucial to embrace a nuanced perspective of rural America, recognizing the diversity of these communities’ experiences and challenges. Engaging directly with the realities on the ground, as we did in Visalia and continue to do in our “On the Front Porch” series, helps us move beyond stereotypes and develop solutions tailored to the needs of rural families and communities.

Below are some photos of the summit.

Left to right: Brent Orrell (AEI), Greg Wright (University of California, Merced), Adam Peck (Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County), Josh Wright (Lightcast)

Left to right: Brent Orrell, Kadeem Noray (Harvard University), Ben Wildavsky (University of Virginia)

Left to right: Kenneth Troske (University of Kentucky), Mason M. Bishop (AEI), Anne Kim (FutureEd)

Left to right: Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (University of Southern California), Tony Pipa (Brookings Institution)


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