Local Realtor Jeff Williams asked the Emporia City Commission to consider investing $150,000 over five years to the Ignite Emporia initiative Wednesday morning.
Ignite Emporia is a five-year strategic plan that is being designed to grow and retain jobs, expand businesses and industries and bring in more affordable housing. The initiative is a project of the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce, working in partnership with local schools, businesses, manufacturers and more.
Williams said one purpose of the initiative is to open lines of communication between educators and employers, making sure the upcoming generations are aware of the job opportunities available to them locally while also training them to do those jobs.
“I’m a parent, and every parent wants their kid to have a good, safe job that pays a good wage,” he said. “Their dreams aren’t to have them put some product into a package for $8 an hour. Their dream is that they’ll make more money and have a more responsible job. ... But, it takes skills to do that and it takes skilled labor to work at most of our corporations and our medium and small businesses right now.”
Williams said the opportunities for the upcoming workforce would include internships and job shadowing programs, working directly with local districts and post-secondary institutions. He said this will help address changes in the job market, with industries like Simmons and Tyson filling positions for chemists and engineers locally.
“Partnering with the schools at all levels has been phenomenal,” he said.
Commissioner Becky Smith asked how the Ignite Emporia initiative differed from organizations like the Regional Development Association or Emporia Enterprises — both of which are already receiving city funds to operate.
“If we commit $30,000 every year, what exactly is that money going to?” she said.
Matt Sabala, senior project manager with Ignite Emporia, said $50,000 - $60,000 would go toward administrative costs, with the rest of the funds being funneled into the overall missions. The goal would be a self-sustaining program by the end of five years.
He said Ignite Emporia’s mission pairs well with the state’s Kansans Can initiative, which puts an emphasis on project-based learning and individualized programs.
“There is a lot that is going into that that needs to start younger,” Sabala said.
Williams said any overlap between Ignite Emporia and other organizations would only help bolster its overall mission.
“I honestly believe that you can’t over-communicate,” he said. “Communication is what this is all about. Letting people know how wonderful Emporia is in so many different ways, and the people that we have here, what their skills are to match people with what we have. So, we’re promoting Emporia, we’re promoting the quality of life, we’re promoting our industry, we’re promoting our students who are born and raised here. It’s literally everybody who makes this community what it is.”
Mayor Jon Geitz said he believed it was a promising idea that could have a big impact on Emporia, and a project that aligns itself nicely with the commission’s goals of maximizing the local “educational triad” of local districts, Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College, workforce development and housing developments.
“I’ve been part of some of the preliminary meetings of Ignite Emporia and I think it’s a good idea and I think it’s something that will be beneficial to the community,” he said. “Some of the tenets of their plan dovetail very well with the goals that the five commissioners have set for ourselves. ... I think we, in my opinion, should be part of that program.”
Geitz said he liked that the majority of the program’s funding would be coming from private entities.
Commissioners said they would be more likely to support a one-time $30,000 payment, rather than committing to five years right off the bat.
“My reluctance on doing ongoing pledges has nothing to do with Ignite Emporia; it has more to do with ongoing pledges,” Geitz said. “The city is contacted every year by organizations that want us to help fund their initiatives and projects, and we really haven’t had a good way of making decisions other than first-come, first-served. To me, when you make a five-year commitment to any program, if a better opportunity comes up in year four, how do you go back and re-neg on the commitment you’ve made? It has nothing to do with Ignite Emporia, to me, it’s just a philosophical thing.”
Geitz said the commission will revisit the issue at a later date.