Small Chamber Big Ideas
In northwest Iowa, there is a small town named Sioux Center with a population of 7,500. It boasts a small private university and a hospital, as well as several sectors of business, including genetics, agriculture, construction, and major employers like Pella Corporation and Smithfield. Like many chambers across the country, the Sioux Center Chamber heard complaints from member businesses about not being able to expand. Businesses couldn’t grow because there wasn’t anyone to hire; they needed new talent, and talent that stays. Businesses charged the Sioux Center Chamber, led by Barbara DenHerder, to help.
To address the issue of talent attraction, the chamber implemented the Homecoming Grant in 2017. This $6,000 grant pays off student loans for students who graduated from the local high school. The amount is paid over four years, and graduates must hold a job in Sioux Center. The grant is framed as a reverse scholarship that is given at the conclusion at the student’s education, instead of at the beginning. Twenty people have applied to date, and two people have been awarded the grant. The chamber is working to raise awareness about the program with the goal of continuing to encourage students to look for and get jobs in their hometown.
To address talent retention, the chamber started Leadership Sioux Center in 2015. Like many other leadership programs, 20 young professionals participate in the eight-month cohort program with a session once a month. This has created a talent pool of younger leaders who are the first to receive notifications for board openings, volunteer opportunities and local civic positions. Of the 100 people who have completed the program, only two have left Sioux Center, making it a very effective tool for talent retention.
To help expose students to the many career opportunities in Sioux Center, the chamber started Your Future@Work. The event begins with a keynote, followed by interactive breakout sessions and a business expo with 65 businesses. For the breakout sessions and the business expo, the chamber works with businesses to focus on the skills needed for working in that industry, rather than the benefits of working for that specific company. For example, a manufacturing company might do an activity with robotics to show students the types of skills they need to get a job in the sector. The event has grown and is now mandatory for the 500-600 high school sophomores in Sioux county. The chamber continues to work with the school district to maintain consistent post-event messaging.
With a staff of three, Barbara DenHerder has responded quickly to member needs. The strength of their chamber is largely due to the tremendous support of the businesses and their willingness to partner with the Chamber in many ways. With an entrepreneurial approach to closing the talent gap, the Sioux City Chamber continues to push for bigger and bolder solutions for its community.
Are you implementing some of the same programs as the Sioux Center Chamber? Do you have an innovative strategy or program that addresses significant issues? Please email Emily Counts (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share.
St. Louis Regional Chamber looks full speed ahead
St. Louis, Missouri’s newest venture sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. The city is vying to become the first in the world to host a hyperloop—a proposed mode of high-speed transportation, in which passengers travel in pods that levitate magnetically in systems of airless tubes.
It’s doing it through the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition in which metro regions from around the world propose prospective routes to house the first-ever hyperloop built by Virgin Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company looking to commercialize hyperloops as a more efficient mode of transit.
At just over a half-hour, the planned route between St. Louis and Kansas City would shave roughly three-and-a-half hours off the current commute by car between the two major population centers.
“If we can link St. Louis and Kansas City into a single megaregion, we would have more than 5 million people in that workforce,” said Andrew Smith, vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “That would catapult us to the 9th largest economic development region in the country.”
To promote the proposal, the chamber teamed up with the University of Missouri System, the Kansas City Tech Council, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Columbia Innovation Center and others to form the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition. The coalition’s first move was to raise $1.5 million for an engineering feasibility study, which began in February and will run through the end of the summer.
“Right now, we are one of only two regions in the country that are at that stage—the other being Colorado,” said Smith, adding that, “Virgin Hyperloop One is now calling us one of the top three routes under consideration in the world.”
When the study wraps up in August, the coalition will have the benefit of a detailed roadmap, with details on costs, route alignment, regulatory framework and environmental impact. Following that, the focus will shift to onboarding additional partners with the capabilities to build the large-scale project.
“This is mostly a private-sector-led effort, and we’ve been very up-front about the fact that we aren’t using taxpayer money to fund it,” said Smith. “This is going to be more like building an airline or railroad than a public highway. We just have to find the right partners to build, own and operate it.”
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