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Building Bridges

Business Center’s Director Forges a Game Plan for Workforce Development
Jeffrey Hayden

Jeffrey Hayden, director of the Kittredge Business Center

Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Center for Business opened its doors in June. The $18 million facility will have a broad mission, said its director, former Holyoke planning director Jeff Hayden, but it boils down to expanding and enhancing the role that workforce development plays in economic development.

When he was planning and economic development director for the city of Holyoke, Jeffrey Hayden was one of many civic and business leaders in that community asked for input on plans to create a business center at Holyoke Community College.

Hayden doesn’t recall exactly what he offered as advice on how to shape the center and its focus, but he does remember thinking that it could become a key player in expanding the important role workforce development plays in economic development efforts in Holyoke and across the Pioneer Valley.

And now, he has a front-row seat for that performance.

Actually, as director of the recently opened facility, a post he assumed a month ago, Hayden will be more behind-the-scenes in his work, which he describes as a blend of administration and outreach, planning, and collaboration.

He joked that his first assignment is to shorten his title — ‘vice president for Business and Community Services and executive director of the Kittredge Business Center’ will barely fit on his business card — but the first real items on his to-do list are to create a business plan for the facility and to generate greater awareness of its role and how it will be carried out.

In other words, he wants area business owners and civic officials to know and understand that the center, named after Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge is much more than a mailing address for agencies such as the Mass. Export Center of Western Mass. and the World Institute for Strategic Economic Research (WISER). Instead, it is a resource that can, by working with other economic development agencies in the region as well as with UMass and the area’s other public and private colleges, address what he called a “disconnect” between the skills required by area employers and those possessed by many in the region’s workforce.

“We want to address that disconnect and eliminate it through effective outreach and collaboration with a number of agencies,” he said. “Our basic mission here is workforce development.”

Overall, Hayden said the role to be played by the Kittredge Center will be fluid in nature, not static. As the wants and needs of area employers and those in the workforce — and those who want to join it — change, the center will adjust accordingly.

“We want to continually look around the corner for what’s next so we can provide that for businesses, students, and residents,” he said, adding that the Kittredge Center represents the latest step in a broad workforce-development initiative in Holyoke and the college that has been building since the mid-’80s. “What’s the future model going to be? We’ll have to wait and see.”

This issue, BusinessWest talks with Hayden about the broad mission for the Kittredge Center — and also about his own career opportunity.

The Job at Hand

As he talked about that mission, Hayden drew on his own work experience, especially his 12 years in Holyoke City Hall, as an example of just one way in which he hopes the center may boost economic development efforts in the region.

“I’m a great example of what I call cooperative education,” he explained, noting that after a stint selling radio advertising and other jobs in the region, he went back to school (UMass) to pursue work in municipal planning. He first had an unpaid internship in the Holyoke Planning Office, then a paid internship in the Economic Development Office. Upon graduation, he took a full-time job in economic development, and eventually became assistant director and then director — adding the duties of city planner a few years ago.

Thus, he is a poster child of sorts for ongoing efforts on the part of regional economic development leaders to keep area graduates in this region by familiarizing them with job opportunities here and giving them reasons to stay.

“When it comes to this market, if we can get people to try it on, to take it for a test drive, to get a taste for it, then we can get more graduates to stay here,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the test drive analogy works not only for employment opportunities, but for college enrollment as well.

“How is a school like HCC going to continually grow its enrollment unless it develops a number of feeder systems that will bring new students?” he asked, adding that the Kittredge Center will work with a number of agencies to help provide literacy training, adult basic education, and other programs designed to motivate individuals to take the next step — a college education.

Providing these test-drive opportunities, in the form of GED preparation, internships, co-ops, and training programs, was one of the motivations for HCC leaders when they blueprinted the concept of a business center close to a decade ago. The broad vision was for a one-stop facility that would place several agencies under one roof — a green, environmentally friendly roof — thus linking employers, students, and area residents with a host of resources.

“One of the practical considerations of the facility is that it takes a number of programs that were somewhat disconnected because of space and brings them together,” he explained. “Hopefully, that synergy will allow us to do more and build upon what’s been accomplished to date.”

The 55,000-square-foot, five-story Kittredge Center is now home to the school’s Business Division, as well as HCC’s Community Services Department, which offers personal enrichment courses, adult basic education programs, educator professional development credit programs, GED preparation and testing, and youth summer programs.

The center also hosts a number of economic development and workforce development-related agencies, including:

  • HCC’s Center for Business and Professional Development, which offers a wide range of workforce development services designed to assess employee skills, identify knowledge gaps, and conduct training to remediate deficiencies;
  • WISER, home to the country’s leading database for international trade statistics, which relocated to HCC from UMass in 2005; and
  • The Western Mass. office of the Mass. Export Center, will offers market research, export training, and international business development resources.

The center also features 4,000 square feet of conference/meeting spaces — available for reservation by area businesses and organizations — equipped with high-speed and wireless Internet, videoconferencing, and state-of-the-art lighting and projection.

The sum of these various parts could best be described as a “regional asset,” said Hayden, adding that it his job to continually refine that asset and to ensure that the region and its business community are taking full advantage of it.

When asked what motivated him to take on that assignment, Hayden said that he was ready for a new career challenge, and considered the Kittredge Center’s evolving mission to be a new and different type of work in economic development.

“This was a great opportunity for me to stay in Holyoke and continue to work to make this a better, more vibrant community,” he said, noting that his assignments in City Hall were focused on bringing jobs and progress to the city. “Our basic mission is workforce development.”

By that, he meant collaborative efforts to address both the quality and quantity of the region’s workforce, which will need a wide array of skills to succeed in the modern workplace. To make area residents workforce-ready, and to assist business owners in their efforts to make their ventures more competitive, the center will partner with a number of local and regional entities, said Hayden.

These include the college; the city of Holyoke and its planning and economic development leaders; the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, which has a number of training and job-matching programs; UMass, and other area colleges.

“We’re looking for every opportunity to make a better workforce development system,” he said. “And that can only happen through effective partnerships.”

One important early assignment for Hayden is to create broad awareness of the center, its various components, and the opportunities they provide for area residents and business owners.

This awareness will be generated through targeted marketing, said Hayden, noting that he intends to be quite visible in the community, driving home the point that the center is much more than its four walls. Indeed, it is what he called a bridge — between the college and the community, and between business owners and future employees.

Having built the bridge, said Hayden, the college wants to motivate people to use it.

Course of Action

When asked for a basic job description for his new post, Hayden told BusinessWest that it comes down to “keeping the college — and the region — on the cutting edge of workforce development.”

The school has a great track record in that realm, he continued, and it is now his challenge to not only continue that tradition but enhance it through effective partnerships and more of that ‘looking around the corner,’ as he called it.

By doing so, he believes the center can be a driving force in the biggest overall challenge facing regional economic development leaders — making the Pioneer Valley and its businesses competitive.

While doing all that, Hayden might still find some time to shorten the title on his business card.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]