When Tom Miller started TPMA on February 12, 1989, workforce development played an important role in bolstering economic growth. More than three decades later, the U.S.’ transition to a predominantly knowledge- and skills-based economy has catapulted workforce’s role in economic development from important to mission-critical.
TPMA has been at the forefront of this change, helping city and state governments, workforce boards, economic development organizations, and higher education institutions build solutions that address their most pressing challenges. What began as a short-term consulting endeavor has grown into a 50-person organization with associates across 16 states, bonded by a shared passion for community-building and developing solutions.
“There’s a curiosity associated with problem-solving that ties the team together,” said Mark Gramelspacher, who became the company’s CEO and managing partner in January. “We’re professionals that help communities solve their toughest problems.”
Miller started TPMA – originally Thomas P. Miller and Associates – after leading what is now the Indiana Department of Workforce Development under Gov. Robert Orr and Lt. Gov. John Mutz. TPMA’s first client was the U.S. Department of Labor, for which Miller wrote several concept papers outlining the workforce system of the future, and TPMA has grown alongside the nation’s need for workforce development.
Among TPMA’s flagship projects was pioneering a model for “one-stop” operators to support local job seekers’ education, training, and job connections in centralized locations – an approach that changed the model of workforce development and established a system that is still in practice today.
The firm also has worked to set up lasting initiatives that address pressing workforce challenges. One example is the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, which TPMA helped launch as a core group of manufacturers working to address their industry’s talent shortages and training needs in the hard-hit community of Youngstown, Ohio. It has since grown into a partnership spanning employers, K-12 schools, higher education partners, and community-based organizations and has attracted tens of millions of dollars in investment.
“A common theme through a lot of our work is that we help take a vision forward that becomes a permanent organization,” Miller said. “It’s not just that we do consulting and develop a report and leave. We act as an early staffing organization to help a vision and idea get traction, get funding, grow, and help the community.”
TPMA also led the development of several sector-based strategies in economic development, for example, by helping to create the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and several of its industry-specific initiatives, such as Conexus Indiana for advanced manufacturing, and TechPoint for technology. TPMA was on the cutting edge of pandemic-era work, supporting DEI efforts for a national membership organization of epidemiologists fighting the spread of COVID-19, and assisting the State of Indiana with a roadmap to advance post-pandemic economic recovery.
In its next chapter, TPMA is building on its longstanding work at the intersection of workforce and economic development. The firm is growing its workforce expertise to include issue areas such as housing and childcare, and is exploring building expertise in transportation – as the availability of these necessities has an increasingly strong impact on people’s ability to work. TPMA also has conducted housing studies for communities across the country to determine supply and demand and has crafted a tool for measuring the local tax revenue and wage growth that would come with providing childcare to all families who seek it.
In an era marked by more than a decade of low unemployment, TPMA is working to help clients unlock talent pools that have been previously overlooked, such as those who lack credentials but learn on the job through apprenticeship models; people with some college but no credential who need credit for prior post-high-school learning; and individuals who have been involved with the criminal justice system. And the firm is focused on helping communities with workforce needs in high-demand, emerging industries such as life sciences, semiconductors, cannabis, and electric vehicles, and is facilitating economic development strategic planning processes with a future on inclusive growth. One example of this is its efforts with the Mountainland Association of Governments in Utah.
A theme that has remained true since Miller added his first team member: the people who work at TPMA make the organization successful.
“To provide cutting-edge solutions for regions, states and communities, we have to have the right team,” Gramelspacher said. “We pride ourselves on the kind of talent we’ve brought on board, and this team is curious, ambitious and hungry to continue building their professional knowledge in our quest to have more impact on communities nationwide.”