In George Eliot’s 1874 novel Middlemarch, the young doctor Tertius Lydgate establishes his practice in the fictional Midlands town of Middlemarch. Though he lives far away from London, the center of medical research, he seeks to use his local efforts to contribute to the stock of medical knowledge.

“He did not simply aim at a more genuine kind of practice than was common” writes Eliot. “He was ambitious of a wider effect, he was fired with the possibility that he might work out the proof of an anatomical conception and make a link in the chain of discovery.”  Eliot adds, “Does it seem incongruous to you that a Middlemarch surgeon should dream of himself as a discoverer.”

So in California, we have our Dr. Lydgates, our discoverers, in rural Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) throughout the state. These workforce practitioners are trying out employment approaches in the hopes both of directly impacting their communities and contributing to our catalogue of workforce knowledge. In this posting, let me briefly mention two which I have learned about recently; and in further posts to add others, spanning our non-urban counties from Imperial to Shasta.

Humboldt County on our North Coast had an unemployment rate of 10.6% in December 2011, among its labor force of 59,900—actually among the lower rates of California’s non-urban counties. Humboldt has been a concern of state economic development officials for decades, as its timber industry employment declined. In the face of this decline, local workforce and economic development officials have sought other sector strategies.

Ms. Jacqueline Debets is the director of the Humboldt County WIB. Ms. Debets is a fifth generation “Humboldter”. She has been the WIB director for 6 years, and part of the County’s economic development efforts for 11 years. Among the major initiatives she and her WIB are now experimenting with is “Humboldt Made”.  


The “Humboldt Made” initiative is an effort to promote the products of Humboldt businesses throughout California and the world, through a joint marketing branding. It grew out of the WIB’s analysis of the area’s “specialty agriculture” sub-sector, and the identification of the positive attributes associated Humboldt County—craftsmanship, authenticity, close to the land, sustainable development.

“That’s Humboldt—Just a short five hour drive to a major city”, the Humboldt-Made website announces (, emphasizing the area’s rugged beauty and independence. The first products associated with “Humboldt Made” include Eel River Organic Beef, Sun Valley Group (cut flowers), Lost Coast Brewery, Baroni Jewelry, Cypress Grove Chevre, Mad River Brewing Company. Profiles of each, consistent with the Humboldt values, are on the website.

Ms. Debets makes the following points about the Humboldt Made campaign:

“Humboldt Made goes beyond ‘Buy our stuff” to a sophisticated connection to customers through high quality photographic images, video and music. The video and photographic image quality is unsurpassed, and unusual for a typical buy-in campaign”.

“Humboldt Made uses social media in cutting edge ways. We have 5,000 plus friends on Face Book, generated in the first year of launch. This year we’ll be launching a Humboldt Made Ap for finding products anywhere you are.”

“Humboldt Made builds tools for businesses to use in their marketing that communicate our beautiful place, our talented- authentic-quirky people, and our abundance of handmade-delicious products.”

“Humboldt Made is led by business for business.”

Ms. Debets further notes that all Humboldt Made films were written, directed and filmed by Humboldters, led by a fourth-generation Humboldter, Ms. Maria Matteoli.

Turning to the Central Valley, the County of Stanislaus, with its labor force of 234,000 workers had an unemployment rate of 16.1% in December 2011. Even in better economic times, Stanislaus, like other Central Valley counties, ran double digit unemployment rates, and these rates grew during the Recession (reaching nearly 19% in February 2010).

Like the Humboldt WIB, the Stanislaus WIB is not depending on federal or state government for workforce initiatives and job creation. It is looking to its existing community of businesses, and attempting a business expansion approach. For Stanislaus, this approach is a “StanTogether: 1000 Jobs” campaign. The WIB, Alliance Worknet, launched StanTogether earlier this month, to urge area businesses to hire 1,000 new employees in a six month period.

Mr. Jeff Rowe is the Alliance Worknet director, and in launching the campaign he told the Modesto Bee, “What we’re looking at is a vicious cycle where the uncertainty about where the economy is going makes it so businesses are not sure if there will be enough demand for goods and services, which keeps them from hiring. We want to help them to take a leap of faith and hire someone. If we can encourage 1,000 businesses to take that leap of faith, we can turn that vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle.”

The program is depending mainly on this leap of faith, that participation by a few initial businesses will spur participation by others, and that a snowball effect will result. The program has no new financial incentives, though Worknet is offering participating businesses the existing on-the-job training incentives (up to 65% wage reimbursement for up to 3 months) and tax credits. To count as one of the 1000 new jobs, the job cannot have existed in the previous 12 months. The job also needs to be least 30 hours per week.

As the program recently launched, it only has a few participating businesses, though these businesses have bought into the “leap of faith” approach more than the financial incentives. An IT company, Data Path Inc., told the Modesto Bee, “I think that as a community, we can help give businesses more confidence”. The Grainger distribution center in Patterson told the Bee, “Partnering with the community and the city of Patterson has been a great effort and win for us.”

Neither Humboldt-Made nor StanislausStanTogether represent radical departures in workforce practice. Like most sound employment policy, they build on the lessons learned in California over the past few decades. As they proceed they offer opportunity for contributions to our workforce canon.