Team leads efforts to develop higher ed strategy for region
yuma Multiversity Campus, gyEdC introduce consultant leading study
The Greater Yuma region is the only major community in Arizona that doesn’t have a fouryear higher education institution.
A 36-week study is now underway to find out how the community can create a four-year presence for higher education that could bring new jobs and companies drawn to the area by local talent and skills.
The Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation and Yuma Multiversity Campus Corp. on Wednesday announced the consultant that is leading the second phase of the initiative.
The Wright Associates, under the leadership of Bruce Wright, was chosen to lead efforts to develop a higher education strategy for the region.
“GYEDC recognizes the importance of access to quality education, especially higher education and continued learning for professionals,” said Julie Engel, GYEDC’s president and CEO. “We are very excited about the selection of the Wright group for the Phase 2 process. Having expertise and experience with international relations and clear understanding that borders are imaginary lines, is one of the primary reasons we were excited to work with them.”
TWA is partnering with other companies with expertise in the required research, including Pegasus Planning and Development of Austin, Texas; Point A Consulting of Louisville, Kentucky, Ramirez Advisors International of Phoenix, and The Planning Center of Tucson.
“We have assembled a talented team with expertise in higher education, regional economic development and workforce development,” said Wright, TWA founder and project director.
The goal of the collaborative effort is to increase access to higher education, resulting in successful outcomes for the community. Together they will gather the data necessary to come up with observations and recommendations that will allow the community to make decisions.
The team’s analysis will include an assessment of the regional economy, a review of the current higher education
offerings in the community, and an evaluation of the workforce needs of the region.
Local officials have long observed that the lack of higher education and skills have stopped some major employers from coming to the area. “The population of Yuma County grew fourfold in the last 50 years and investment in local higher education has not grown,” said Jim Schuessler, YMVC’s president and CEO.
“We are a rapidly growing county,” he said. “With proper skills matching the needs of regional primary employers, we could certainly take great strides to reduce unemployment and increase per capita personal income in our region,” he added.
The consulting team will interview community and business leaders, hold town halls with major stakeholder groups and conduct an online survey of businesses, and a regional market analysis to understand the education hiring gaps.
“A big part of this is inclusiveness. That is, we want to reach out and really understand the community and what needs there are for higher education in the Greater Yuma region,” Wright said.
Schuessler clarified that this is a regional project. “Our diversity is our strength here,” he noted.
The consulting team will collaborate with stakeholders on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border and four states, Arizona, California, Sonora and Baja California.
Wright noted that Ramirez Thomas, president of Ramirez Advisors, and his team are recognized as the experts in the relationships between the U.S. and Mexico and already have a lot of involvement in the Yuma region.
“This is an exciting, dynamic area, bicultural, bilingual, very diverse community,” Ramirez explained. “For us in this process, es muy importante que también se incluya la participación del lado mexicano. It ‘s extremely important to include the participation of the Mexican side of this process. It’s not a Yuma project, it’s not a San Luis project, It’s not a Somerton project. It’s an entire binational regional project that we’re undertaking.”
Ramirez added: “We are going to be looking at a broad spectrum of visions, four-year college degrees, post-graduate studies, technical and vocational schools in order to meet the needs of employers, job creators and also to start marketing to companies that come to look at this region because of the talent that’s available.”
He thinks this is a good time for this discussion. “This is an exciting time for Yuma, San Luis, Somerton, Wellton, the entire area,” he noted. He pointed out that the U.S. Senate had recently approved a package that includes $147 million to complete the buildout of the San Luis Port of Entry. The San Luis area had already secured $300 million in federal funding, “an investment that will be a tremendous catalyst for tourism, trade, investment and job creation on a binational basis.”
Learning from past mistakes, stakeholders want to take action and not let the investments go to waste. “We have all these great investments, and it just sits there. We kind of cross our arms and wait for it. ‘OK, there it is. Come and get it.’ I think this is a proactive approach that’s going to help us leverage both types of investments in the community,” Ramirez said. “The physical infrastructure may be in San Luis, but that investment will have an impact throughout the entire region, throughout the entire Southwest.”
He added: “This effort is to help us leverage those types of investments being made, create those sustainable jobs and help us recruit new companies to the region. This is the right time to have this discussion. We need to be proactive in how we move forward and how we manage these investments. I think they’re going to be critical for the success of the region.”
The consulting team will look at the different sectors in Yuma, including agriculture and the large presence of Border Patrol and military. They will also look at the factors, such as lifestyle, work and education, that will in the future attract millennials to a location.
They will also look at what has worked and hasn’t worked, here and across the country. “This is a bit of looking in the mirror. You might not like what you see, but it’s also (to) identify other challenges, and turn challenges into opportunities,” Ramirez said.
The work began on Wednesday with a YMVC Board of Directors workshop. In September, TWA will engage in a series of individual meetings and focus groups with regional primary employers, education leaders, nonprofits focused on education and workforce development, elected officials as well as municipal, tribal and county officials.
GYEDC and YMVC asked the community for its support moving forward, noting that project success can be wide reaching. “For existing employers, success with the YMVC project means increased access to local people with career skills that match company needs so their companies can grow,” the organizations said in a press release.
“For the regional population, success means lower unemployment and underemployment as well as the potential for increased access to higher wage jobs. For existing small business owners, success means increased economic vibrancy and sustainability. For elected officials, success means the potential to increase the tax base so that they can provide the services necessary to keep Yuma County thriving.”
The multiversity initiative goes back to 2019, when Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls led the creation of a steering committee to develop a full university presence in Greater Yuma. The vision was to foster a culture of degree-earning and higher education by providing support and continued expansion of the state’s universities and colleges locally.
That initial work led to the development of YMVC, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to collaborate by bridging higher education, industry and prospective talent to provide the means to achieve the skilled careers of today and the future.”
The second phase of the project is made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, Yuma Regional Medical Center, Arizona Community Foundation and Southwest Gas, with additional support by Gowan Company.
For more information, go to https://yumamultiversity.com/.