A Democratic Economic Vision: Transforming Opportunity in Colorado

We know Democrats need a better economic vision. But while we all support increasing pathways to the middle class and narrowing the income inequality gap, most ideas our fellow Democrats are offering these days do not match our aspirations.

That’s why, as a Democratic candidate for Colorado Governor, I’m unveiling my plan to dramatically transform economic opportunity in our state.

I believe the training of a skilled workforce is the biggest untapped opportunity in America. If we redefine how we connect our education system to the workforce, we will prepare our people for the jobs of tomorrow and expand opportunity for all.

I want to be able to say by the time I’m done being Governor, that Colorado is the national leader in creating economic opportunity and 21st Century, middle class jobs, that we’re the best place in America to get ahead, build a business, and raise a family.

The model for my plan is CareerWise Colorado, the innovative, statewide apprenticeship and job training program I helped build here, which is already being called a national model.

CareerWise is America’s first statewide youth apprenticeship program. It matches high school juniors and seniors with job training in modern industries, providing students with college credit, a paycheck, and real-world experience and skills needed to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. Ultimately, CareerWise will create over 230 different pathways, taking students from apprenticeships to careers in advanced manufacturing, IT, finance, banking, renewable energy, healthcare, and more. CareerWise graduates are better prepared to go directly into those careers, or continue to a 4-year college degree, a PhD program, or beyond.

CareerWise is also helping close what we call “the skills gap,” which exists because there aren’t enough workers to fill jobs that require a bit more than a high school diploma — like some technical education or training — but don’t call for a 4-year degree. For example, there are 25,000 unfilled tech jobs in our state today. Programs like CareerWise provide young people with skills needed to close this gap.

Many have taken notice of our success. CareerWise has received national press coverage (check out this great story on PBS). The Denver Post said the program “is an exciting development, and one we hope reaps the benefits for local students and for other states considering how to beef up post-secondary education…It’s long past time in this country…[to] find ways to give high school students more options for rewarding careers.”

CareerWise has been strongly praised by Governor Hickenlooper and President Obama’s Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who said that thanks to CareerWise, Colorado is “leading the nation” on job training.

As Governor, I’ll scale up and expand the CareerWise model, so within 10 years we’ll be graduating 20,000 Coloradans from highly skilled apprenticeships each year. That’s 100,000 new pathways to the middle class every five years. These are real 21st Century jobs and opportunity for Coloradans.

In Colorado, our community colleges have proven critical for economic development across the state. Yet, our State budget doesn’t match what we need to build a highly skilled, highly trained home-grown workforce that will grow our economy and build a bridge to the middle class that’s accessible to all Coloradans. By forming a partnership between our apprenticeship program and our community colleges, we will have an incredible opportunity for Colorado to reimagine community college, as more than a place to start a 4-year degree, but as an incubator that will prepare the next generation for the job skills they need to get ahead and grow our economy.

I also believe that a highly trained workforce is the key to building and nurturing new industries, new opportunities, and new jobs that cannot be outsourced. I know something about this because I’ve also built a successful manufacturing company in Colorado.

When I was in college at the University of Denver in 1980, I started a company, Intertech Plastics, which manufactures products in Colorado, products I’m proud are “Made in the USA.” Our company’s still going strong, and has provided good jobs to hundreds of Coloradans.

I’ll tell you right now, if we empower our citizens and workforce, we can make more in Colorado and America. It’s not about building walls or giving away tax breaks to big corporations. Highly skilled job training makes sense when you have a trained workforce and an ecosystem to nurture it.

Colorado’s economy is going through many of the same changes other states are experiencing throughout our country. While we are seeing booms in various industries — tech, for example — opportunity is not being created for everyone. Housing costs are rising, and many of the people who were raised here or are longtime residents of this state aren’t able to share in this expanding economy.

My plan for expanding economic opportunity in Colorado is ambitious, but it is pragmatic and achievable. It can be paid for (ultimately, 85 percent of the funding for CareerWise will be covered by private industry, because business knows it makes sense to nurture a skilled workforce).

My plan is also the most transformational action we can take to expand economic opportunity and narrow the income inequality gap. It will help ensure that growing prosperity is shared, that there are paths to the middle class for all who seek them. It will improve our economy and education system, and change lives.

I’ve spent nearly 40 years growing organizations and non-profits in Colorado, and bringing businesses, governments, schools, and communities together to make a difference. Never have I been as optimistic and excited as I am now about the chance to make transformational change in our state.

I know we can do this. We’re Coloradans. We don’t let the future get away from us. We pioneer our own destiny. So, let’s get to work. Let’s do this together.

Noel Ginsburg is a Democratic candidate for Colorado Governor. He’s the founder of CareerWise Colorado, America’s leading statewide job training and apprenticeship program, a manufacturing CEO, longtime civic leader, and native Coloradan.