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Filling the Workforce Development Demand

Filling the Workforce Development Demand

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce launches the Workforce Development Division to retain and attract talent while bolstering the community.

A lifetime ago, in late 2019, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce embarked on its annual Leadership Visit. The Leadership Visit is a fall experience coordinated by the chamber for a diverse delegation of business, education, government, and community leaders from Columbia and Boone County to have robust discussions with peer communities and discover ways to improve Columbia. These visits have been responsible for sparking inventive ideas such as Columbia Public Schools’ Early College program in partnership with Moberly Area Community College. 

The 2019 trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, gave us the inspiration to satisfy Columbia’s need for a centralized entity focusing on workforce development. There had long been demand from the business community, the city, and the county to fill this void. 

“Columbia needed a convener to help push our community forward with workforce development. We are proud to fill that role,” says Matt McCormick, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO.

From that trip, the concept of the chamber’s Workforce Development Division was born. While the program was initially slated to start in March 2020, it was paused due to COVID-19. Now, with Columbia and the region taking steps forward on the road to reopening, the chamber has reignited its focus and is moving forward with the division. 

Using the Resources We Have to Build Great Things

“Because we’re so passionate about improving our community, our goal is not to duplicate any great programs in Columbia, but to collaborate and capitalize on what is already being accomplished,” Matt says.  

The Workforce Development Division’s strategic initiatives and goals include convening strategic partners and organizations working on workforce development, collaborating with the business community, developing workforce development programming, and collaborating with state workforce programs. The division’s mission is to retain talent in Columbia while helping build a strong workforce of tomorrow. 

“When creating a division like this, it’s vital for us to be strategic about who steers the ship,” says Matt. “The chamber wanted purposeful people leading the way.”

One of the earliest individuals tapped to lead was Dr. Jeff Lashley, president of MACC, who chairs the division’s steering committee. 

“Workforce development is a major priority for the college and the business community at large,” says Jeff. “Creating pathways for individuals to grow and support themselves in local workforce opportunities will create lasting, positive change for the entire community.”

The remaining members of the division’s steering committee represent a range of industries, including health care, finance, education, manufacturing, and construction.

Who makes up the Workforce Development Division Steering Committee?

MU Health Care: Beth Alpers

Moberly Area Community College: Dr. Jeff Lashley

University of Missouri System: Steve Devlin

Columbia Board of Education: Teresa Maledy

Boone Medical Group: Michelle Zvanut

Emery Sapp and Sons: Sara Snodderley

Providence Bank: Eric Morrison 

COMO Magazine: Erica Pefferman 

Central Bank: Ed Scavone

American Outdoor Brands: Brian Murphy

Midwest Computech: David Nivens

PepsiCo Quaker Oats: Cole Knudsen

The division has earned interest and support from Columbia and the Mid-Missouri region due to the potential positive impact it may have. The division has the long-term potential to clog Columbia’s brain drain and fill talent gaps in industries like construction and health care. Retaining talent in Columbia and the region will ultimately enrich every aspect of the community, thereby fulfilling the chamber’s mission to “enhance the quality of where we live, learn, work, and play.”

Straight to Business

The steering committee conducted its first meeting in early January 2021, and by the February meeting, the committee had created four subcommittees to execute the division’s goals and address its needs. 

Workforce Development Subcommittees:

Capital Campaign Subcommittee: Focuses on raising funds for the Workforce Development Division.

Program Inventory Subcommittee: Creates a dynamic collection of community-wide resources that the division should support and programs that the business community needs to be made aware of.

Inventory of Needed Positions Subcommittee: Takes stock of what positions the business community needs to be filled or created.

Internal Program Subcommittee: Evaluates what programs need to be implemented or developed in Columbia and the region.

At the writing of this article, the chamber is actively in pursuit of hiring a full-time staff person to implement the division’s strategic initiatives and goals. The new staff member is projected to begin in May 2021.

With the support of community partners such as REDI, MU, and Columbia Public Schools, the chamber is confident in the potential success of this program as it helps grow the chamber, Columbia, and the greater Mid-Missouri community. 

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