The path has shifted, the destination has not.
We’re not (overly) superstitious at USTomorrow, but, in an abundance of caution, we decided to wait until 2021 to post this.
With era-defining run off elections drawing to a close in Georgia, we’re at the end of a disappointing and exhausting chapter in U.S. political history. Post-election legal strategies are designed, not to overturn the election, but rather to deepen and extend the gulf between Americans for another four years of caustic, non-productive politics.
It’s up to us to do better.
This post will briefly examine USTomorrow’s journey thus far and, more importantly, outline the brighter path forward.
When USTomorrow was introduced in August 2019, our mission was to reduce hyper-partisan influence and political stalemate by helping communities and candidates establish common cause, shared goals, and practical approach to the growing crisis threatening America’s Main Street economies. Jobs, education, and our kids’ futures were at risk.
After input from a broad coalition of stakeholders, the growing workforce readiness crisis became USTomorrow’s cross-partisan rallying cry and launch issue priority. The misalignment between education, training, and jobs negatively impacts all Americans — urban, rural, red, and blue.
By early fall 2019, we had designed, built, and launched the Workforce Initiative — a portfolio of engagement and education products — and assembled a network of partners, communities, candidates, and campaigns interested in establishing a higher expectation of public service.
We went into the field in October 2019, strengthening the core of our argument, media interest, and momentum around the launch of a statewide survey of economic developers and community influencers to identify the local issues being left behind in the churn of divisive politics. Early results of that survey can be found here.
By the end of 2019, we had traveled across Texas, gaining the insight of communities and community leaders on region-specific workforce readiness challenges and ways to resolve America’s toxic politics.
In January 2020, to establish federal and state candidate expectation of USTomorrow’s new, voter-derived data in advance of the November 2020 elections, we began outreach and education in earnest, conducting in-person and virtual training sessions for economic development organizations in advance of a second survey assessing resident sentiment on economic health and opportunity.
A third survey, measuring and contrasting sentiment in the Texas business community, was to follow in March.
Instead, March brought COVID-19, a threat that effectively ended our in-person introductions and understandably consumed the focus of USTomorrow’s growing base of stakeholders.
Like every American enterprise, the pandemic required us to make some adjustments.
Common sense suggested that the pandemic would provide a common, if tragic, cause around which all Americans could rally. But when the virus itself became a partisan issue and the crippling workforce and economic implications began to become clear, we paused a capital campaign, doubled down on existing infrastructure, retooled platforms and partnerships, and refined our strategy, introducing a new leadership path for the organization.
With our partners Polco and the National Research Center, we immediately designed and launched resident and employer surveys to the UST community, adding many of your voices to a deeper examination of the emerging threat. In May 2020, we released the data, which informed the work of the National League of Cities and was replicated by the state of Colorado. Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of our analysis of the UST COVID-19 response surveys are posted for public review.
Alice Echo-News Journal
In July 2020, as politicization of the pandemic continued and the economy continued to crumble, UST convened a new conversation, putting research in the field around the need to safely reopen Texas businesses and get Texans back to work. That work continues and is evolving to become a unique tool for business owners, policymakers, and community leaders to navigate the current crises while building toward a stronger, shared future.
The work ahead still lies in reconciling the political noise, focusing on the facts, and introducing a new policy safety net for our citizens and communities. Our research and advocacy will provide a snapshot of the sentiment on Main Streets around the state. These struggling engines of our economy are the ear the policy community needs to speak to and the voice the political community needs to hear.
Below are a few things to expect from us in 2021. Some are already underway. All of them support our mission to prioritize people over politics.
>The Workforce Initiative has evolved to become a multi-phase COVID-19 recovery and future of work campaign executed in partnership with the state’s leading economic development institutions and national research partners.
- Phase 1, Return to Work, an assessment and analysis of statewide employer sentiment, is almost complete. Results will be released in January to introduce USTomorrow in the Capitol and inform non-partisan recovery discussions in the 2021 Texas Legislature.
- Phase 2, Future of Work, will be a statewide regional assessment building on the results revealed in Phase 1, drilling down on regional workforce and building cross-partisan coalitions around related policy priorities. As an advocacy tool, it will lay the groundwork to pick up where the Workforce Initiative left off in advance of the 2022 elections.
- Phase 3, the Resilient Policy Labs, are on the white boards right now. Using data collected in Phase 2 and working with some of Texas’ leading academic policy institutions, stakeholders will be provided workforce and economy strengthening policy templates at the local, county, and state levels. This will advance the expectation that hyper-partisan politics should not get in the way of the real work or the big picture.
>We’re working to strengthen our team at the Board and staff levels. COVID-19’s legacy will linger for several years. To ensure we retain sight of the work required on the other side of the pandemic, we’re considering adding a Workforce Futurist Fellow to our team. This is an exciting role for a new voice in Texas policy making and economic development.
>To enhance our commitment to the data and given our nonpartisan charter, USTomorrow is applying to transition from 501(c)(4) to 501(c)(3) status.
We are more committed than ever to the groundbreaking work we’ve undertaken and are thankful you chose to join us in making a difference.
Have a safe and sustaining end to the holiday season. This year is going to be a busy one.
Joseph Kopser, Co-founder and Board Chair
Originally published at https://ustomorrow.medium.com on March 9, 2021.