Project 17: Allen County doesn’t lack for jobs



November 26, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Allen County doesn’t lack for jobs, rather in people to fill them, Heather Morgan told county commissioners Tuesday morning.
Morgan is executive director of Project 17, a consortium of southeast Kansas counties with designs on improving the region’s economic development.
She pointed out Allen’s unemployment rate is 4.2 percent, and said many of those who make up that statistic don’t know how to navigate the intricacies of getting a job and keeping one. Consequently, “they feel defeated and depressed” and find themselves on the outside looking in.
Another obstacle, Morgan said, is the unemployed knowing where and when jobs are available, an outcome that often occurs through friends and relatives and therefore limits applications.
Drawing people from outside the county to local jobs also is limited by wages paid, which must be enough to compensate for transportation or encourage a move to the community. That makes housing a chicken-and-egg issue, she said, and allowed that moderate-priced housing, not low-priced, probably is the answer, but not definitively.
Commissioner Tom Williams, former sheriff, noted he sometimes was told by those involved in the court system — as defendants — they couldn’t find jobs.
“That might be a good place to advertise,” he said.
Morgan embraced the idea. She said some employers are willing to take on an employee with a record, to give them a chance to work their ways onto the right side of society, and not hold against them “screwing up in their 20s.”

WHILE ECONOMIC development is a pillar of Project 17, Morgan said improvement in regional health and leadership also were concerns.
She said while unemployment numbers are improving — the 4.2 percent rate is testimony — the poverty rate is “not so far.”
Developing a more iemployable workforce will help lift them out of poverty, she said. Soft skills, such as how to better communicate and present yourself, help people land and keep jobs, she said.
Morgan also discussed programs and successes.
She mentioned a fabrication laboratory at Independence Community College, which has a number of high-tech devices, including such things as plasma cutters, that were available for a nominal fee to regional innovators. In one case a prosthetic hand was made for a young girl in Toronto. Another user, from Thayer, is fabricating a full-size plastic car.
The group also is eager to nurture value-added projects in agriculture, such as a meat processing venture in Ottawa, and to introduce e-commerce to broaden local markets.
A barrier in 10 of the 17 counties in southeast Kansas is lack of broadband Internet service, she said, which Project 17 is working to alleviate.

IN OTHER NEWS, commissioners:
—  Said they would “try to do our best” to provide funding for the Allen County Substance Abuse Task Force to make visible its role in preventing tobacco, drug, alcohol and prescription drug abuse. The group sought $2,000, which may come from a county fund supported by alcohol tax distributions. A decision will be made when commissioners know better what distributions are.
A focus is kids and alcohol, said Stacy Birk, member of the Regional Prevention Council, a state-funded agency. She said ACSATF was drawing on proven program models in other counties.
— Were told $1 million of Allen County Regional Hospital bond proceeds remained. County Counselor Alan Weber said $165,000 would be held back for final construction items and the remainder put in the hospital’s debt service fund, which will permit initial payments to be made without dipping into reserves.
— Noted the planning commission approved Nancy McEndree’s request for rezoning in a rural area south of LaHarpe for a used car and towing business. Commissioners will act on the issue after “a few loose ends are tied up.”
— Approved having silhouettes put up in courthouse halls in early December to draw attention to the efforts of Hope Unlimited to help the abused.

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