Building on and Retaining Talent in Cumberland County

Over the course of the last few months, I have met with a number of groups and individuals. Many have lamented the brain drain that has been taking place in the county. I, too, share their concerns. The rate at which our educated young people are leaving is not sustainable. The narrative that I have heard goes something like this: the post-World War II generation of primarily Italians, Jews, and Puerto Ricans who settled in Cumberland County brought this area to an unprecedented level of success. Along with groups of other races and ethnicities, they practically built this county.

The major cities of Vineland, Millville, and Bridgeton developed their unique identities around the industries that were created there. The cities and townships flourished. The children of these early entrepreneurs took those businesses to the next level of success. Most of them remain in the area. However, few from that third generation remain here locally. As businesses succumbed to a changing economy, the younger generation sought opportunities to attend colleges and universities, and to work outside of the county.

In my five-month journey in Cumberland, I have come to know an incredible group of inspiring leaders and professionals whose businesses are on the cutting edge of innovation, technological advancement, and whose leadership and management practices, I believe, put them among the top tier in the country. They’ve evolved their enterprises to keep up with and anticipate changes in the external environment. Their ability to innovate, evolve, accurately respond to opportunities with speed and agility enabled them to survive and flourish during and after economic downturns. Their stories are fascinating. Analyses of these businesses and their trajectories would create fascinating case studies for business and management students. They are the type that one reads in the Harvard or Stanford Business Review.

As Cumberland County reinvents itself, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Our challenge and opportunity are to figure out how to build on the human capital that is here to accelerate our rate of progress, to help the new wave of immigrant businesses being created primarily by Mexicans and Central Americans to prosper, to bring and retain businesses in the County so that our young people can have opportunities to keep them here.

Cumberland County College plays a central role as convener, accelerator of educational attainment, human capital developer, workforce trainer, and economic development engine. We embrace these roles and are strengthening our foundation so that we can help propel the county to a new level of prosperity.