A workforce development plan is necessary to attract new businesses and give existing businesses a guide to keep employee turnover rates down, an economic development official said.
James Oltman, Franklin County Development Council executive director, said keeping employees and building a workforce for new companies is a hot topic right now.
“We knew there was a need from a local level to help the existing businesses,” Oltman said. “When it comes to business attraction, site selectors and clients are digging deeper and deeper into workforce than in the past. If you have a company looking at putting up pretty substantial investment with facilities and bringing a large number of jobs to town, they want to know if they will be able to find the people to fill those jobs. These are challenges not exclusively to Franklin County. There are challenges all across the state, all across the country are facing. The general theme workforce is the No. 1 topic right now.”
FCDC, along with the DeBruce Foundation of Kansas City, Missouri, and a task force Oltman formed, have been working on a workforce development plan for the past year. Oltman said when he came to Ottawa in spring 2016, the common theme he heard from local businesses was high employee turnover.
“For a variety of reasons, it seemed it was having an effect on them when they are constantly churning about 20 percent of their staff,” he said. “There is definitely a lot of time and resources put into the hiring process. It can get frustrating really fast.”
With Proximity Park, a new business park, on the horizon, Oltman said a plan needed to be in place to attract companies.
“It is important to show that you are working on trying to do something at the local level,” Oltman said. “Taking ownership and being committed in trying to do something about it. It will be very important to attract those new tenants that we are expected to attract with the new Proximity Park.”
He said existing businesses need a framework to keep employee turnover rates at a minimum and give them resources for skill development.
“We will have some good options for our community at-large,” Oltman said. “One of the biggest things we are targeting in this plan, we will be looking closely at how we take advantage of the local talent we have in the community.”
Oltman said the full plan is nearly ready to unveil to the FCDC board and the organization’s members. He said the FCDC board will receive a proposed plan for their approval at the Sept. 19 meeting. If approved, the plan will be unveiled in October at the annual member’s banquet and officially begin in early 2018.
“We want to make sure our board approves everything first,” Oltman said before revealing the plan’s components publicly. “It is a multi-faceted plan. There are about six different spokes to the plan. It is a big deal. It is going to affect not only how we compete with other communities when it comes to economic development, but it is really the opportunity to affect some substantial change in our own community for the better. The nice thing about the plan is it will translate over into any industry.”
Oltman knew a project this large would need several partners to build a plan. The DeBruce Foundation, parent company to ATC Truck Covers, 801 E. North St., Ottawa, advised FCDC on how to get started during several meetings in September 2016.
“We knew if we were going to do this right and going to really try to dig down into the issues, we were going to need some people around the table from a variety of sectors,” Oltman said. “It could not be just FCDC or the schools. All theses industries have expertise in different things.”
Oltman put together a task force of representatives from FCDC, City of Ottawa, Ransom Memorial Hospital, Ottawa school district, Ottawa University, Neosho County Community College, Kalmar and ATC Truck Covers.
“We had a good, mixed group that could collaborate on this,” he said. “It was a diverse group that could look at it from a variety of different angles. There was a commitment from around the table that we wanted to keep this going on a monthly basis until we could get a plan put together. We knew we had to go through this very methodically.”
Part of the process was receiving feedback from businesses. Oltman said a couple of luncheon meetings were fruitful and helped the task force create components of the plan.
“That started to shape where the conversation was going to head,” Oltman said after the first meeting. “If we wanted it to be successful, we had to look at it from a couple of different aspects, urgent and important. We have issues that some companies are facing that are urgent issues. They are looking for something to help them today, not a year from now. We needed to address both sides of it. We also knew if we focused on the urgent — trying to put a Band-Aid on things — once you get down the road, they start reoccurring. That is not a sustainable solution. We formed two separate task forces for people to look at urgent issues, and what action plans that could be put together to address those, and the important issues.”
Oltman said the task force delved deeper into workforce issues in the spring and put ideas on paper.
After presenting a preliminary plan to the FCDC board, another meeting with businesses gave the task force more things to consider.
“Tell us if this is something that moves the needle,” Oltman said he asked of the business representatives. “This is not something that is set in stone.”
Oltman said getting the plan off the ground will take money.
“What most likely we will need to do is look at our partners to get this off the ground,” he said. “We will have to have a fund-raising campaign to get this going.”
The plan will continue to grow and change as different scenarios emerge, Oltman said.
“This is the starting line, not the finish line,” he said. “This is going to be a learning process as we head down the road. Hopefully this plan will start to build on itself and will branch out and help some of the other organizations, too. There are solutions out there. You have to be open in talking about them. You have to be open to being creative and innovative. Doing things the same way has gotten us to the point where we are at now.”
Oltman said this type of plan can only be a positive for the community.
“It is really hitting at the heart of a need we have in the community,” he said. “It is going to be a key component how we market and position ourselves with Proximity Park and the new projects that we will see coming down the pike. That is going to position us well for the long-term.”