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Mind the skills gap 

The Buffalo Billion led to some big money, high-profile economic development projects in the Buffalo area. But the region's leaders say that the effort has also helped workforce development.

As the leaders developed detailed plans for investing the state money, they learned that key industries in the region faced shortages of qualified workers. They studied those gaps and developed or reconfigured training programs to build supplies of appropriately-skilled workers.

The approach has helped people find jobs, officials say, and helped companies fill positions.

State officials say that they want other regions to take a similar approach as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Upstate Revitalization Competition. The seven Upstate regions — the Buffalo area is excluded — will submit plans showing how they'd invest one of the three $500 million awards that are up for grabs. (The competition is included in the budget deal reached by Cuomo and state legislators earlier this week.)

A recent report from Monroe Community College may give the Finger Lakes region an edge in the competition. The report looks at 23 middle-skills jobs across five key areas: information and computer technology, hospitality and tourism, health care, skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing.

The report lays out the estimated annual demand for each position, and the projected number of related graduates from training programs across the region.

It's meant to help MCC align its training programs with the needs of employers in the Rochester region, says Todd Oldham, MCC's vice president of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services.

"There's a lot of great opportunities in things that have become somewhat obscure, but could be really terrific occupations if you like to work with your hands and you like to be inventive or even entrepreneurial," Oldham says.

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