The Salina Area Chamber of Commerce asked Salina City Commissioners for $86,510 in funding to focus specifically on workforce development. After hearing an hour long presentation during their afternoon study session Monday, Commissioners asked to revisit the discussion at another meeting.
Eric Brown, the Chamber’s Business Development Director, said that Saline County has an unemployment rate of 3.7%. This translates into 1,104 unemployed individuals. A State Department of Labor report estimates that 1,065 jobs are currently open in Saline County.
Noting that “60% of the private sector net new jobs” will come from “existing establishments”, the Chamber wants to make sure that workers will be available to fill those jobs. Workers are being drawn to Wichita, Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Omaha. Chamber President Don Weiser said the Chamber looks at the amenities and quality of life offered in the community as it works to attract businesses and people to the community.
Specifically, the Chamber is asking for:
- $34,000 geared toward workforce recruitment and retention. This includes developing a logo, billboards, flyers, brochures and a marketing plan.
- $15,000 for entrepreneurial start-ups and support. As one activity, the Chamber detailed a “Shark Tank” like experience to expose middle school and high school students to entrepreneurship.
- $23,500 for research activities and materials. This could involve funding up to four trips by Chamber staffers to visit corporate headquarters of major employers (like Schwann and Exide) as well as travel to up to six conferences for “networking opportunities”.
- $12,750 for retention and professional development. One aspect of this includes building upon the Salina Area Young Professionals Network.
- As well as other costs.
Salina Commission Chair Kaye Crawford said the City has committed $308,000 to fund the Salina Community Economic Development Organization (EDO). She questioned if the Chamber’s print and digital expenses amounting to $26,000 and conference fees of $12,000 might be duplicative of EDO activities. Weiser said that the Chamber wanted to “be at the table of events the EDO may be attending”.
Within the past week, the EDO’s governing board interviewed for a director. The EDO will share office space in the building that houses the Chamber. Commissioner Karl Ryan said the EDOs activities are “six to eight months out there” and he supports the Chamber’s offer. Commissioner Randall Hardy said he’d be “comfortable” with partnering with the Chamber for twelve months and then re-evaluating whether the workforce development activities would receive-going funding.
Commissioner Jon Blanchard summarized why the City had moved away from funding the Chamber at a previous level of $185,000/year. The Salina Airport Authority, Saline County Commission and City Commission have pooled resources to fund the new EDO. Blanchard wants to let the EDO get started. City Commissioner Trent Davis wondered if the City wasn’t being asked to fund 1 ½ legs of the “tri-pod”.
Weiser said that the EDO is “doing separate things”; he said that the Chamber and EDO are “two separate organizations”. Citizen David Norlin said, “Those lines are blurry for the public”. Citizen Judy Larson asked if any of the workforce retention and development activities would be targeted at different racial/ethnic groups; Weiser responded that the efforts are to benefit the “entire community”.
Weiser spoke of an “immediacy of what we have before us”. He expressed apprehension that the community “may lose opportunity if the Chamber doesn’t get out there” to promote workforce retention and development.