• Special Feature / Interview
  • 12.15.20

IR's Role in Supporting Regional Economies: Interview with Arizona Commerce Authority Official

  • by Nic Richmond, Chief Strategist, Pima Community College

Amid the ongoing pandemic and the associated economic impacts, higher education has a key role supporting our regional economies. To hear some perspectives on how institutional research can help, we connected with Shawn Neidorf, senior vice president for research at the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA).

Can you tell us about your role and the ACA?

I am the senior vice president for research at the Arizona Commerce Authority and a member of the organization’s leadership team. In my role, I oversee:

  • The state demographer’s office; which provides estimates and projections of Arizona’s population, works closely with the Census Bureau on its data collection and dissemination, and hosts the State Data Center: a collaboration between the Census and states to help people make better use of Census data.
  • The BLS activities group; which collects, codes and cleans data about Arizona’s employers and employment on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency.
  • The economic analysis team, which analyzes employment data. Their work includes making employment projections, determining in-demand industries and occupations, supporting statewide and local-area workforce efforts by providing actionable data and assessing program outcomes, and presenting a monthly employment report.
  • The economic development research team; a unit that produces bespoke research to support efforts to attract and expand companies in Arizona. The team also conducts research on trade, foreign direct investment and other topics, as well as supporting strategic and marketing efforts for ACA.
  • A duo of economists who work on all manner of technical issues; including data management practices, unemployment insurance trust fund health, and the distribution of federal dollars to support workforce efforts in Arizona.

I also lead the state’s efforts regarding Opportunity Zones, and I am involved in an exciting effort to create a longitudinal data system for Arizona’s education and workforce data, so we can see how schools (including community colleges and universities) and the workforce system affect the working lives of Arizonians.

How important is data in what you do? What kinds of data do you regularly use?

Data are utterly critical to my team’s work, and data are at the heart of ACA’s broader mission to attract, expand, and create businesses in Arizona that provide high quality jobs to the state’s residents.

We use a wide variety of data every day—Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Census data, private data, data on costs of doing business, labor supply, labor pipeline, degree completions, job growth, employment, unemployment, unemployment claims, vital records, cost of living, supply chain, trade, foreign direct investment.... If it fits into a spreadsheet, we are probably interested.

Many readers of this newsletter are institutional researchers at community colleges and universities. What are the top two or three things that you recommend we all do to help support state commerce agencies?

Trend data are very helpful—in which programs is enrollment growing? Shrinking? What are completion rates for certificate programs, particularly those that lead to middle-skills jobs? Where are students finding jobs after graduation? In what industries? What are you hearing from industry partners in your area? What do they need more of? What are Arizona’s research strengths? What technologies will university researchers bring to the fore here?

I also want to ensure that institutional researchers are aware of the development of the state’s longitudinal data system. This system will link data from elementary, middle, and high schools with community college and university data and workforce system data to allow us to see how our engagement with Arizona residents may have affected their career development. This will be a critical tool to help us all assess our efforts to improve the educational and professional outcomes of our students and clients. Maricopa and Pima community colleges are part of the initial build-out, which is underway now.

What stands out to you as a really exciting example of an initiative in Arizona where a partnership between ACA and a state college or university created a positive outcome for the state? Were there particular data or information that was pivotal to the success of the initiative?

ACA collaborates with the state’s community colleges and universities on a regular basis. To give one example, ACA’s workforce team worked with community colleges in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties to develop a curriculum around advanced manufacturing that is taught in all three systems, yielding stackable, recognizable industry credentials that give students a path to a meaningful career and to further educational and professional advancement. The effort, known as the Arizona Advanced Technology Network (AATN), required extensive input from employers throughout the region and from community colleges as the joint curriculum was developed, equipment was procured, and the program was launched. Now, community colleges in other counties are looking to implement the program themselves, expanding the program’s reach. ACA and the community colleges will monitor the effectiveness of the program, which, of course, will be data-driven. This effort has become a model for other collaboration, including a just-launched project to train 5,000 people in Arizona for certifications in Amazon Web Services for cloud computing careers.

More generally, and more data-related, we work with universities to:

  • Better understand their research as we support the development of next-generation technologies in Arizona, with an eye toward commercialization and rooting those technologies (and companies) here.
  • Identify and highlight research and educational strengths when working with businesses. Some are focused on being sure our educational institutions can provide them with workforce for years to come. Others want to locate their companies near educational institutions and have relationships with those schools’ research facilities. We use IPEDS data for such work, but we also work directly with the universities and community colleges.