Saturday, August 18th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
Planning for the future
New campaign will link companies, future workers
  "There's nothing here for me."
A new initiative - Hometown Opportunity - is being launched to change the long-held misconception that dream careers aren't available in the Grand Lake area.
"A common theme expressed by business people has been that our brightest and most talented young people are leaving the area for training or further education and not returning to fill openings at local businesses," Jerry Meyer, owner of Coldwater Machine, said.
Those dream jobs are right here, workers aren't, he said.
His company and more than a dozen others are teaming up with economic development officials, school superintendents and guidance counselors, local government leaders and Wright State University-Lake Campus to debunk the "no jobs here" misconception.
Hometown Opportunity will include a soon-to-be online website and the use of social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to connect job seekers of all ages with local businesses. Posts, blogs and up-to-date notifications will steer high school and college kids toward the appropriate education or training that can ensure a career, said Jared Ebbing, economic development director for Mercer County.
"Kids often pick a major and then hope to find a job. It's a crap-shoot," he said.
The campaign also will help link the unemployed, as well as workers seeking advancement and/or higher paying jobs, with local businesses who need them.
A meeting about the new initiative was held earlier this month at St. Henry schools. Fifteen businesses and representatives from nearly every Mercer County school district were on hand. Interest is huge, Ebbing said.
"It's about retention of our talent. There's no bigger issue in workforce development right now," he said.
The effect of losing our future workforce could be devastating, Ebbing said. When young adults move away and establish homes elsewhere, the local population and school enrollment plunders, levies fail and companies leave for lack of workers.
"It can be a vicious cycle," he explained. "Other parts of the country have experienced this already. We're not there yet ... and this initiative can make sure it doesn't happen."
Hometown Opportunity will focus on increasing the awareness of what local businesses have to offer.
"Companies have to do a better job bragging about what they do," Ebbing said, adding most people are probably not aware of the amazing products and services produced here in the Grand Lake area.
Meyer agreed.
"Sadly, few people outside the company know what processes and technology is applied and/or created inside these small businesses,"he said.
St. Henry schools superintendent Rod Moorman said its clear most students would like to remain close to home after high school, or at least hope to return to the area to raise their children. Schools can help if they know what companies are looking for, he said.
"We need direction to give students a more clear pathway," Moorman said. "We need to know what businesses are looking for."
He stressed that college isn't for everyone. High school students can take classes in one of nine programs at Tri Star Career Compact and then enter a local job.
"And if they're doing well, some of these companies will pay to further their education," he said.
One of the programs already bringing young students and local companies together is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). St. Henry, Fort Recovery and Marion Local schools have for several years participated in the program, which includes field trips to businesses so students can visualize the jobs found locally.
Many area companies, like Coldwater Machine, already offer apprenticeships, co-op programs and student scholarships to entice future employees. Nathan Schwieterman, a controller at the company, said the Hometown Opportunity initiative will be used by Coldwater Machine to find mechanical and electrical engineers, application engineers, project managers and skilled machinists and toolmakers.
"It is very important to get the message out ... that diverse, fantastic, challenging and rewarding career options are available in the Mercer/Auglaize county area, where families can be raised in a small-town atmosphere with excellent school systems," he said.
Meyer said parents have to be open-minded when their children are considering careers.
"A big issue is getting parents to guide their children into careers where the child can have the type of success they want for themselves, rather than relying on their parents gage for success, which can be outside the child's interest," he said.
He believes it's the responsibility of area communities to create an environment that encourages young people to stay and strengthen the local economy.
"They can provide the added catalyst for building the infrastructure that is required for the area to remain vibrant and relevant in a world that doesn't always understand or appreciate what (its) lost when their children don't return home to raise the next generation of children," Meyer said.
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