Rapid Response - Solutions for Economic Transition
Jun 15

Economic Gardening: Where Will New Jobs Come From?

Historically, 3 to 5% of small businesses account for 75% of all job growth and the majority of the nation’s inventions and innovations. Small business is the economic backbone of our economy and will pave the pathway to economic recovery. We must support small business to grow our own jobs as we climb out of the current recession.

The concept of economic gardening is that local entrepreneurial activities are the engine for the creation of new jobs and opportunities for communities, rather than recruiting companies from outside the region to relocate and bring with them new jobs. The economic development strategy changes from “economic hunting” -- attracting businesses into a community -- to supporting the community’s existing businesses and entrepreneurs to grow into healthy, vibrant companies with a strong employment base.

Nearly 30 years of economic gardening experiments around the country have identified three core factors that are critical to successful support of small business as they evolve:

  • Providing critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.

  • Developing and cultivating an infrastructure that goes beyond basic physical infrastructure and includes quality of life, a culture that embraces growth and change, and access to intellectual resources, including qualified and talented employees.

  • Developing connections between businesses and the people and organizations that can help take them to the next level – business associations, universities, roundtable groups, service providers, etc.

  • Rapid Response provides an approach that supports the three factors necessary for successful Economic Gardening in America’s communities.

  1. What percentage of workers in your region or community are employed by small business?

  2. What involvement have you had as a Rapid Responder with entrepreneurial efforts?

  3. What resources or partners are there in your community to assist entrepreneurial efforts?

Jun 11

It’s Not Just About “Response"…

Is calling it Rapid Response selling the effort short?  The fact is, Rapid Response isn’t just about responding; it is not even mostly about responding. It’s about continually engaging with and helping businesses at all stages of their business cycle, whether they are expanding, down-sizing, merging, relocating, reorganizing, closing or even temporarily stable. It shouldn’t be about simply reacting to the latest economic shock or layoff; it should be an active, continuous effort of providing long-term solutions that lead to a thriving economy.  And that means planning and preparing ahead of time, making sure you are always:

  • Developing an awareness of the global, national, regional and local economic trends;  
  • Building relationships with employers, service providers, and other stakeholders; Understanding the needs and challenges of employers and workers; and

  • Developing a vision and strategies that address the challenges and ensure long-term economic stability and growth.
Perhaps and name change is in order. Long before you can “respond” to anything, you need to have a strategy in place. And part of that strategy needs to be building a strong and engaged network of partners -- including businesses, education, community leaders, economic development, and more -- and sharing information among all stakeholder groups to pro-actively plan for and manage economic transitions. With a strong network, Rapid Responders can play a key role throughout the business cycle, making connections between stakeholders to help locate workers for growing businesses, connect growing businesses with declining ones and transfer skilled workers to minimize layoffs, detect new growth opportunities and plan for training programs to prepare for those opportunities, and so much more…

Rapid Response is ideally-positioned to convene a network, as it’s the first place many businesses and workers land when they enter the system looking for assistance.  And the more resources there are in your network, the faster you can plan strategies and respond to the needs of your community. Rapid Response is a process, a process that includes planning and strategizing for a continuum of services to businesses, as well as the workforce. The days of thinking of Rapid Response as a reactionary effort to address economic crises, such as plant closings and mass layoffs, are gone. Rapid Response is the first place businesses should go to help address all worker-related needs throughout the entire business cycle.  

  1. What role have you played in providing proactive solutions to assist employers or workers?

  2. How would your describe your relationship with employers during times of growth and expansion?

  3. Aside from the types of assistance depicted in the graphic, what other services have you provided business throughout the business cycle?

Jun 08

The Role of the Rapid Response Practitioner in an Evolving Economy: “Persistent, Resourceful …and a

The role of Rapid Response practitioners is complex and often misunderstood. Even the words “rapid response” betray the comprehensiveness and creativity involved. Certainly quick action is often required, but an essential role for a Rapid Response practitioner is to be a facilitator or broker of information, services and resources to address the challenges and opportunities employers and workers face during times of economic transition.

One experienced Rapid Response practitioner described the ideal qualities of someone involved in Rapid Response efforts as “persistent, resourceful and a little mischievous.”  Not “mischievous” in a careless or destructive way, of course, but rather someone who is constantly and creatively looking for ways through or around barriers to achieve effective solutions. The description is apt and I think sums up the can-do attitude required of Rapid Response practitioners.

An economic transition can be any economic shift that affects employers and workers, either positively or negatively. During times of expansion, employers may want to hire new workers or retrain incumbent workers; during times of decline, employers may want to examine alternatives to layoffs, or help workers transition to new jobs. That’s where resourcefulness comes in… with the right preparation and planning, Rapid Response can play a valuable role in brokering solutions that can help employers and workers manage any type of economic transition, good or bad.

When layoffs occur, Rapid Response practitioners are invaluable in helping dislocated workers get connected to the workforce system and the myriad of services and resources they need to undergo the job transition process and find new employment. In a sense, Rapid Responders often act as counselors, providing knowledge, experience and genuine concern, and exploring available options. This is where persistence comes in… never giving up, and always looking for solutions that will truly help businesses and workers. This is perhaps the most recognized role of Rapid Response practitioners. However, their larger role takes place long before layoffs are imminent.

FIRST AND FORMOST the role of Rapid Response practitioners is to proactively prevent or minimize layoffs, i.e., layoff aversion. That is job 1 and reflects the necessary mindset needed to effectively apply the full value of the Rapid Response network. To do that, on-going efforts are needed, including:

  • Being proactive and prepared
  • Engaging partners and building a broad collaborative network
  • Monitoring early-warning networks/mechanisms
  • Staying current on Labor Marker Information and other economic forecasting resources that provide insight into workforce and economic trends and conditions.

This is where mischievousness comes in… while staying attuned the overall needs and the complexity of any situation, a Rapid Responder’s thoughts remain focused to two key questions: “How can I help overcome the challenges this business faces?” and “What needs to be done to keep these people employed?” The mission is always to try and prevent a layoff or business closing, or minimize the impact on the lives and communities involved.  Effective Rapid Responder are not above begging, borrowing, or “stealing” innovative practices in order to accomplish that mission…and they are always willing to share these practices with others.


  1. How would you describe the role of a Rapid Response practitioner?
  2. What non-traditional partners have you engaged with to assist employers or workers?
  3. What creative or outside-the-box “mischievousness” have you been involved in that helped prevent or minimize a dislocation?

Mar 15

Rapid Response: Flexible, Innovative, & Critical

The public workforce system is a two-client system. Businesses and workers are both critical customers for the system. And Rapid Response is the hub of this two-client workforce system.

Rapid Response plays an invaluable role in a fully functioning, fully developed workforce system. Flexible and responsive, Rapid Response is at the heart of the promise that the workforce system makes to both the working public and the nation's employers: When you need us most, we will be there.

Want to be seen as a hero in your community by heading off the storm? Rapid Response is the answer. Rapid Response should be visible, it should be active, and it should be one of the foremost weapons in your arsenal against economic transition. Rapid Response is the business service for trying times. And did we mention there's money attached to it? With significant flexibility? Money you can use to position your state or WIB as a critical partner to business. Money that permits innovative solutions, making a difference at a time of need.

The regulations on Rapid Response emphasize the value of talent recapture-keeping skilled talent engaged in the regional economy-and talent redeployment-retraining a proven workforce to meet a region's changing needs. The programmatic options available through Rapid Response allow states and local areas to play an active role in shaping and maintaining a competitive, resilient regional workforce.

There is an opportunity here that is all too often overlooked. Rapid Response need not and should not remain a single, onsite visit to an employer in response to the filing of a WARN notice. If used to its full potential, Rapid Response is an investment within a region, of value to the business community, allowing the workforce development organization to play a greater role in the regional economy and fulfilling the promise of a robust and proactive workforce investment system.

Optimal application of Rapid Response as a transition management service allows the workforce system to remain relevant across the entire business cycle. When Rapid Response is viewed solely as a service to individuals affected by layoffs, much of its inherent value is lost. While working to reduce the affects of a layoff on individuals is a valid and valuable service, the scope is limited and often fails to meet the greater challenges facing the regions economy.

Rapid Response realizes its full potential as a business service, allowing relationships with employers to be maintained and enriched-throughout the business cycle. By building long term relationships with business, and more importantly business leaders, Rapid Response allows the workforce system to play a central role in a region's economic development efforts. Rapid Response is one of the few government-funded programs whose mission is to serve the needs of employers, workers and communities. The planning and information gathering necessary for effective Rapid Response also establish an awareness of and familiarity with the talent needs of a region. The direct connection between business service and allows the workforce community's ability to strategically meet the needs of both hiring employer and dislocated worker.

If Rapid Response were not a legislated requirement, the most innovative and effective workforce development organizations would recognize the value and find a way to perform this essential service.

The bottom line? Invest in the potential of Rapid Response and make a greater difference in your community!

Do you have any examples of innovative approaches to Rapid Response to share? Have you provided critical solutions to businesses in transition? Have you received favorable press? Please share in the comments section!