Given recent events, it seems wise for futurists of all types to lose the word “disruption” from their vocabularies. I’m pretty sure we’ve all had our fill of disruption—at least for a little while.
Fab Lab Hub and New Collar Network founder Sarah Boisvert leans more toward words like innovation, creativity and education, all three of which will come into play for the New Collar Innovation Center, opening next week at the Higher Education Center, a collaboration between Boisvert’s organizations and Santa Fe Community College.
Pandemic disruption spurred the initiative to a degree. Fab Lab had already been offering courses and digital badge certifications through SFCC’s continuing education programs. But as use declined at the HEC—with the University of New Mexico and Northern New Mexico College no longer using the building—SFCC President Becky Rowley and the college’s executive committee began discussing what its future might look like.
Those discussions turned toward the idea of expanding Boisvert’s program into the HEC and “creating something bigger than just a few classes,” Boisvert says, “and having something that could innovate education, innovate workforce training and also foster entrepreneurship for the kinds of companies that create these new collar jobs.”
New-collar jobs, as Boisvert discusses extensively in her book The New Collar Workforce, are ones that utilize new technologies and skills—think 3D cutters, computer numerical control machines, laser cutters—and require a workforce not just trained in current tools but trained to be adaptive.
Boisvert and her team have been in the building since last July, setting up, building out the labs and, of course, working (one project, she says, involved 3D printing 12,000 swabs for COVID-19 tests ). They’ve stayed busy enough they were able to hire two workers displaced during the pandemic. “All this stuff about how people don’t want to work,” Boisvert says. “People do want to work. They want to work in meaningful jobs.”
They will have the opportunity at the New Collar Innovation Center, through classes, as well as a boot camp starting later this month funded via the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (applications are open online: https://tinyurl.com/3dpboot).
And the public is invited to check out the new center at grand opening events Aug. 6-15, which kick off 3:30 pm, Aug. 6 with Mayor Alan Webber and SFCC’s Rowley announcing the best entries in a 3D printing art show, along with an unveiling of an 8-foot-tall Rosie the Riveter sculpture made from more than 2,600 3D printed parts (limited capacity; register in advance).
Throughout the week (find the full schedule at https://tinyurl.com/newcollaropening), attendees will be able to check out a range of equipment, some of it courtesy of a mobile fab lab rodeo from Forest CNC in Phoenix, Ariz., along with tours and myriad demos (including a mini-quadcopter, short-range broadband and augmented reality, via the RealityX2 app, which was created in Santa Fe).
The opening events also will feature discussions on a variety of topics, such as bridging the wealth gap with new collar jobs; integrating 3D printing into curriculum; and an overview of the state’s broadband initiatives. Boisvert will moderate a panel at 1 pm, Aug. 9 tackling the framework question of “Why is Innovation Important?” Says Boisvert: “I wanted to get a conversation going about why innovation is important and why it’s important for us to think outside the box. Think about those cavemen: If some guy or woman hadn’t innovated and made fire, where would we be?”
Panelists will include former Meow Wolf CEO Vince Kadlubek; NM Manufacturing Extension Partnership CEO Jennifer Sinsabaugh; and John Rizzo, who is behind two undertakings: the Santa Fe Innovation Village and the New Mexico Innovation Triangle.
Sinsabaugh says the new center’s undertakings perfectly dovetail with her industry’s needs. New Mexico may not have the type of manufacturing reputation as, for example, Detroit, but it has both established industries (think Intel) along with smaller but fast-growing sectors, such as food and beverage manufacturers. “The rest of the world is loving our tortillas and our salsa,” she notes.
Sinsabaugh says NM MEP is very focused right now on “introducing and getting manufacturers to [adopt] advanced manufacturing technologies,” such as additive manufacturing, automation and robotics, in order to help increase productivity and capacity. But once they adopt those technologies, she notes, “they need the workforce to support it.” That could mean a new generation of workers, but also up-skilling existing workers.
For Rizzo, training people for “new economy jobs” will help address what he characterizes as the “high level” problem of the state’s stagnant population growth, which fuels its economic challenges. Federal and state data released last April showed both more people moving out of the state coupled with declining birth rates, leaving New Mexico’s population growth lower than the US average and that of surrounding states. Rizzo’s New Mexico Innovation Triangle strategy aims to create 25,000 jobs in innovative industries and “add another economic pillar” to the state’s focus on oil and gas; film; government; and tourism. A trained workforce will make it easier to attract technology companies to the state, but also accommodate a post-pandemic workforce where people don’t necessarily live where they work (Rizzo’s sister, for example, lives in Chama and works at Twitter).
The triangle would involve innovation “villages” in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Los Alamos: hubs with live/work amenities. The Santa Fe undertaking—the Santa Fe Innovation Village—would be built on 140 Southside acres between Beckner Road and Interstate 25 and will need to traverse the city’s public participation/development process before anything else happens.
Rizzo knows it’s a big swing, but says after 35 years in Silicon Valley, he’s adopted its cultural idea of “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.” He returned to New Mexico—where he spent some time 50 years ago—convinced there’s a path forward to “preserve the benefits of this wonderful place and grow intelligently and thoughtfully.”
And maybe he’ll “crash and burn,” (his words, not mine), but Rizzo says he believes it’s possible to do work you enjoy and contribute to the community. How’s that for an innovative idea?
New Collar Innovation Center
Grand opening, Aug. 6-15
Santa Fe Higher Education Center
1950 Siringo Road