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Governors: The Front Line in Delivering for Voters

03/26/2014 05:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2014

Twice a year a special magic happens when America's Governors from both political parties gather as a part of the National Governors Association (NGA). The organization is a hub for exchanging ideas, best practices and shared experiences. For the most part they put away the partisan bickering and jostling for who will be best positioned to run for President so they can share ideas for making America better.

Ironically, while elected officials are surrounded by people all the time, the job of a Governor can be very lonely because, to paraphrase Harry S. Truman, the buck stops with them. No matter if the issue is education, jobs, crime, healthcare, transportation or infrastructure, governors play a major role. They have significant budgets, the ability to raise or lower taxes, and are much closer to the needs of the people in their states than the Federal government ever can be.

The needs in each state are great and there is never enough of the 3 T's (time, talent and treasure) to meet them all. So governors have to make tough choices. Having peers who are also making such tough decisions is critical. The NGA Center for Best Practices, which develops innovative solutions to today's most pressing public policy challenges and is the only research and development firm that directly serves the nation's governors is also key to helping governors make informed choices. The NGA staff transcends elections, and can build from experience across all states, political parties and sectors.

The NGA has its own elected structure where governors serve as officers of the organization. The chairmanship is held for a year, and rotates between political parties. The current chair is one of the few women governors in America, Republican Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. She previously served in Congress and is also their state's first female governor.

As governor, Fallin cites job growth and retention, education reform and workforce development, government modernization and the elimination of government waste as her top priorities. During her administration, Oklahoma has consistently ranked among the top states for job creation. Thus, is it not surprising that as NGA chair her one year special initiative is "America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow's Jobs." See here.

According to Gov. Fallin:

Governors are uniquely positioned to foster stronger connections between education and the workforce because within states, they are the sole individual who has responsibility for both public education and economic development. States and the businesses that drive state economies can help secure their own economic future by aligning education institutions and workforce training efforts with the projected demands of tomorrow's labor market. Beyond the benefits to the businesses that make up the states' economies, these changes will improve access to economic opportunities for the citizens of each state.

Fallin says:

We know it will be the workers with education and training in fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and other skilled trades who will be best prepared to capture the high-wage jobs of the next decade, including those in health care, management, scientific and technical consulting, business services and advanced manufacturing. Those are the jobs that will support families and help states' economies thrive. Together, we can work to prepare our workforce for the 21st century, securing the economic future of all Americans.

Many governors are focused on expanding the years for educational opportunities. Many feel that the "new minimum" should include early education and at least trade school or community college after high school. Not everyone agrees. The same day that the NGA report was released New Your Times columnist Tom Friedman published an alternative perspective (see here). He interviewed Laszlo Bock -- head of hiring at Google who said "Too many colleges, he added, "don't deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don't learn the most useful things for your life. It's [just] an extended adolescence."

At the NGA meeting in Washington governors indeed were talking about performance metrics regarding investments in universities. Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina is looking to see if all the money invested in getting young people to graduate from four year colleges with degrees in the humanities could be better spent on STEM education. Regardless, the focus by governors and the NGA on best practices for workforce development is needed.

America today has some of the best companies in the world. If we want to stay economically competitive, and also offer workers the ability to earn a living wage, we must indeed focus on getting our citizens the skills and systems they need to succeed in the future.

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