Chamber Talks Development

NEW BREMEN — An area chamber of commerce held its annual luncheon, showcasing where the chamber has been and its goals for this year, workforce development and presented awards Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the Southwestern Auglaize County Chamber of Commerce gathered at Faith Alliance Church in New Bremen to hear Chamber Director Scott Frey’s annual report and heard from New Bremen Economic Development Director Angela Hamberg on the West Central Ohio Workforce Development Initiative.

“Workforce development is deemed as one of the biggest challenges to economic development,” Hamberg said. “Several industries are facing challenges that include a lack of prepared workforce for more technically prepared job requirements.”

She then noted different views of workforce development — business view, community view and a workforce view.

From the business standpoint, Hamberg recognized the issues of structural unemployment, concerns of a shortening workforce, competitive advantages, incumbent workers and the pre-employment screening.

“It’s not a problem with the quantity of workers applying for jobs, the problem is the qualified candidate, that they have the skills that are needed for the positions that they are seeking to fill,” Hamberg said, adding the importance of workforce development. “From the business standpoint, workforce development provides a competitive advantage. Having a skilled and adept workforce is a competitive advantage across the global economy.”

From the community standpoint, Hamberg recognized the issues of urbanization, economic development and sustainability.

“We have an issue with urbanization because a lot of people who want to go off to bigger and better things they think are located in a big city, and we need to find a way to kind of address that and let them know that maybe we aren’t bigger but we can offer something better,” she said, adding they need to focus on retention to help with sustainability of the businesses they already have.

From the workforce view, Hamberg recognized the issues of tuition costs, opportunities, quality of life and employment longevity.

“Last thing you want is this monumental debt and an income that just doesn’t meet the need,” she said.

“If they go to college and they’re going for a certain knack, they want to know there are opportunities they can fill.”

Hamberg also said this area is not alone in the challenges it is facing with workforce development.

“We do have a national issue, we do have a state issue,” she said, noting the issue was addressed in the State of the Union.

As for other challenges, Hamberg noted unemployment and the amount of underemployed people, as well as the top 10 in-demand jobs.

“As you look at those 10, they’re all available in West Central Ohio,” she said.

As for the state’s efforts, Hamberg noted job training was addressed in Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address as a top priority.

“He has mentioned that the current workforce development system is inadequately assisting the unemployed, underemployed and incumbent workers during a time of emerging recovery,” she said.

“As part of the State of the State address, he had mentioned that he wants to start aligning vocational schools, back to school systems and for colleges to offer a realistic job proposition and to develop a workforce operation that would initiate a big overhaul of training in the state. He recently signed an executive order reforming Ohio’s workforce development system.”

She said she believes an overhaul in the system is good news for everybody.

As for local efforts, Hamberg said they are seeking to form a Business Advisory Council and is currently working with the New Bremen School District to establish a BAC for it.

“It’s for the educators and the local businesses to communicate as to what those needs are in the community,” she said.

Hamberg said they are also working on an open house program at New Bremen High School to bring in the businesses to let them know the opportunities available in the area, as well as continuing the efforts of the workforce development initiative to connect workers with skilled-training opportunities in Mercer and Auglaize counties.

One of the training opportunities the workforce development initiative has created is a 10-week program through courses at Upper Valley Career Center, Rhodes State College and Apollo Career Center.

“We’ve seen a positive response back from businesses,” Hamberg noted, adding the opportunity for sponsorships and scholarships thanks to local businesses.

“Our numbers are small for the first session, but it’s not discouraging. We’re happy that it’s more than we had before we started.”

Hamberg noted what the community has to offer — stressing the area’s work ethic as being a big factor. She also stressed the importance of awareness of the job opportunities in the area.

“I believe it’s the responsibility of each and every community leader, community resident and  parent to take a little bit more initiative in helping with workforce development and creating that awareness and increasing interest,” she said.

During his report, Frey noted the chamber closed 2011 with a loss of $6,514.20.

For 2011, Frey noted highlights such as the formation of the Legislative Affairs Committee, implementation of a new software system and the formation of the workforce development initiative.

For 2012, the chamber’s goals are to implement training for the chambers, a small business wellness consortium, Aflac chamber member benefits, a social media and mobile marketing program, supporting the Lake Restoration Commission efforts, beginning a newcomer’s welcome group, an Ohio BWC program and training, continuing with the workforce development initiative and economic development and retention.

The chamber also presented the following awards:

• Outstanding Businessperson Award: Jim Dicke.

• Community and Business Pride Award: Brad Garmann and Bruce Miller.

• Special Achievement Award: Wayne York, Delores Stienecker and Neal Brady for the development of the Miami and Erie Canal Visitor’s Center.