The silence has been deafening. In spite of numerous e-mail messages and follow-up phone calls made to Chamber of Commerce branches in Moorpark, Camarillo and Simi Valley, I have received no responses from Chamber leadership in those cities concerning my requests to meet with them to brainstorm possible outside-the-box solutions to empower Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura Colleges. The CEO/President of the Oxnard Chamber, Dr. Nancy Lindholm, and Mr. Ed Summers, the Ventura Chamber CEO/President, have been exceptions to this silence, however, in that they gave me unequivocal nos.

Lindholm told me that “Everybody expects the Chamber to do everything” and that the Oxnard Chamber had lost a substantial number of company/business members owing to the recession. She said, moreover, that the Oxnard Chamber could not do any more than it is already doing. Summers told me that the Ventura Chamber had such a tight work schedule that it could not undertake any new projects.

While what Lindholm and Summers stated is understandable, I could not disagree more profoundly with their responses or the non-responses of the other Chambers, noted above.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce works to strengthen our nation’s education system and improve our workforce training programs,” Lindholm’s response and the silence of other Chambers with regard to collaborating with other stakeholders and me to empower Ventura County’s community colleges directly contravene the statement just quoted.

The competitiveness of Ventura County’s workforce, and the economic competitiveness of the county itself, in economies of scale, from the California Central Coast to the global, are inextricably linked to the quality of education at the Ventura County Community College District (VCCCD) schools. Chambers of Commerce countywide should move with alacrity to collaborate with public and private organizations to strengthen the VCCCD’s institutions of higher learning, which are in dire straits.

Severe budget and program cuts have left the colleges reeling and severely limited in their ability to educate and train the county’s workforce. Sacramento, in large measure, can no longer be relied upon to fund our county’s community colleges.

As noted on the U.S. Chamber website, it is incumbent on Chambers nationwide, and in Ventura County, to “encourage continued private-sector investment and innovation in higher education,” Failure to do so could relegate the colleges to the enveloping darkness of being unable to fulfill their mission of equipping our workforce to be highly competitive.

We face stark choices that could well impact the long-term economic vitality and livability of our beautiful county. First, failure of the colleges would mean a downward slide into the steely grip of flagging competitiveness for Ventura County businesses, companies and enterprises of every type.

Second, with the increasing inability to locally recruit trained workers for companies, especially in the IT, technological, engineering and scientific fields, many of those entities could move to other counties, other states or even other countries. This would strip Ventura County of its economic vitality and potential for growth.

Third, though many people say it is impossible and that they would steadfastly oppose it, the possible downsizing or closure of the Naval Base Ventura County with installations at Point Mugu and Port Hueneme remains a real threat because of federal budget cuts or owing to the bases’ growing inability to recruit highly trained and educated people, from Ventura County, to fill their technical jobs. Many baby boomers are retiring from those jobs, and the bases are facing severe shortfalls in key skill areas and positions.

It is in the compelling interest not only of county Chambers of Commerce, but of business leaders, public-policy leaders (including the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, city councils and neighborhood councils), candidates for political office, nonprofit organizations, education leaders and private citizens, among others, to begin speaking out boldly and to begin the hard work of forging creative, practical and outside-the-box solutions to empower our community colleges and thereby keep our present and future workforces competitive and, by extension, the county economically competitive in economies of scale.

Public-policy leaders, in particular, should worry far less about “jurisdictional protocol” when it comes to partnering with other public agency leaders, and business and education leaders, to build the public-private partnerships required not only to strengthen the colleges, but to make Ventura County an educational, environmental, economic and lifestyle powerhouse nationwide and globally.

With the help of Divine Providence, we can do it as we have some of the best, brightest, most creative and most diligent people in the world who call Ventura County home. It is not a matter of ability; it is a matter of unflagging will. “If we do not hang together, we will all hang separately.”   

Dave Morse, MA, MMPA is a resident of Port Hueneme.