Competing Globally: Governors Give, Get Ideas

By: - June 18, 2012 12:00 am

Politicians in hyper-partisan Washington may shun any proposal from across the aisle, but some governors aren’t shy about stealing a neighboring state’s idea and giving credit, regardless of their counterpart’s political party.

During a recent visit to Washington, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, a Democrat, said that when he went last year to Utah, the country’s reddest state, he became convinced he needed to push in his home state for “immersion” language programs in which students spend half the day in English and the half the day speaking a second language.

Markell explained that he saw the fruits of such a program at last year’s National Governors Association’s meeting in Salt Lake City where a delegation of top Chinese officials were greeted by local elementary children schooled in Utah’s dual immersion program. The children spoke to the Chinese delegation in Mandarin.

“And apparently, according to the Chinese, very good Mandarin,” Markell said in a roundtable of governors during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual job summit June 13. All the attending governors were asked what good ideas they found elsewhere.

Markell went on to say that over the next five years, Delaware plans to open 20 immersion language programs in Chinese and Spanish for elementary school children. “It’s absolutely absurd that we expect no matter wherever we go … everyone will speak English,” he said.

All the states are thinking globally, including Nebraska. Governor Dave Heineman said during the roundtable he wasn’t sure which governor gave him the idea that he calls “reverse immersion” or “bringing the world to Nebraska.” Since he was sworn in as governor in 2005, Heineman said he has hosted two “reverse trade” conferences that each brought more than 125 business and government leaders from around the world to his state.

As a result, companies from China, Japan and Germany are among those now investing in Nebraska, he says.

To compete with China and the world, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said his state knows it needs to hone workers’ skills. He credited a Georgetown University study for his “66 by 2020” initiative that calls for having 66 percent of adult Utahans obtaining a post-secondary degree or professional certification by 2020, up from the current 43 percent. “It’s not a matter of whether we want to do it,” Herbert said. “It’s a necessity. We must do it, or our economy won’t move forward.”

The gap between workers’ skills and open jobs is also the focus of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, but in a different way. He explained that Wisconsin used Georgia as its model when it created Wisconsin Workers Win (W3), a pilot program that allows a job seeker who is still collecting unemployment insurance benefits to be placed at a local business and receive six weeks of training there. The aim is that six weeks of on-site training is “enough time to get the person in the door and in that job,” Walker said.

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