City Considering Chamber Funding Request

Salina Area Chamber of Commerce President Don Weiser urged the City Commission to fund its $86,510 request for business retention and expansion activities.  Weiser said efforts to develop the community’s workforce and fill vacant jobs is “so important, we need to get a jump on it”.

Referencing Kansas Department of Labor statistics, the Chamber’s presentation showed that 1, 065 jobs are currently open in Saline County.

Mai-Lin Garcia, Senior Human Resources Generalist for Schwan’s, said it is hard to retain local employees.  Currently, Schwan’s has 80-100 open positions.  Schwan’s training process may take 30 to 60 days before a new hire works independently.  Schwan’s plans to expand its plant.

Salina Regional Health Center is offering $10,000 sign-on bonuses to registered nurses who have at least two years qualifying experience in the ICU, “medsurg” and surgery.

Weiser reported that Valmont would hire 15 people to work in its galvanizing facility, if they could find skilled workers.

Weiser said the “Chamber has been doing workforce development for years” and is ready to expand those activities.  Salina Tech has expanded its welding skills program from 24 to 54; its commercial driver’s license training course has graduated seven.

Commissioner Jon Blanchard asked how the commission would know if funding the request incentivizes quality, premium jobs.  He noted that the median wage in Salina is 15-17% below the State’s median wage.

Commissioner Karl Ryan repeated his support of the plan.  Mayor Kaye Crawford said she supported funding parts of the Chamber’s proposal.

Pat Milham said there is a need for R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the workers.  On behalf of the Salina Area Workers’ Coalition (SAWC), he asked that labor have a seat on the newly created Salina Community Economic Development Organization.

Also representing SAWC, Joan Ratzlaff said, “Workers are underrepresented but are important stakeholders.”  She asked that since tax monies are involved, that the Chamber’s meetings be open to the public.

David Norlin commented that the Chamber pays a notable individual $45,000+ or more to speak at its annual banquet; he acknowledging that ticket sales offset some of the speaking fee.  Norlin then questioned how the Chamber then asks the City for $86,510 to fund this new plan.

Abner Perney said that during a recent trip to Colorado, he learned voters overwhelming approved making incremental increases to a state minimum wage, which is higher than the prevailing federal wage.  He suggested the city might take up raising its minimum wage.