A trained, available workforce is one of the essential keys to the economic success of any community. In order to compete in the marketplace, the community must have and identifiable and trainable workforce.

Twin Cities Development (TCD) is addressing that need through its newly announced PEER7 program.

During the TCD annual meeting, Community and Economic Development Director Keith Ellis said the program’s purpose is to engage industry employers, educators, business leaders and parents to maximize “skills development, job awareness and education/economic development partnerships.” In effect, they plan to grow the community’s own local workforce to meet the needs of potential employers and companies.

“Gering Public Schools and Bayard Public Schools are two of our first members to join the program,” Ellis said.

Jennifer Sibal, community engagement director with the Gering Schools Foundation, said that education is the economic engine within the community.

“As we grow the Career Academy pathways at Gering High School, having these business connections, networks and partnerships for our students is essential,” Sibal said. “We’re looking forward to growing our alumni outreach and bringing those individuals back home because there are opportunities for them here.”

Todd Lewis, TCD incoming president, said “The issue has been identified and confirmed from the State of Nebraska to our local community. Workforce is the biggest issue we face today.”

The PEER7 program helps employers reach out into the schools with the events like a skilled workforce appreciation week and parent/teacher conferences to increase awareness of career opportunities in the local area.

“We have an accountability team to help us make sure we’ve fulfilled that mission with the partnerships we have with the schools,” Ellis said. “We have Western Nebraska Community College and Educational Service Unit 13 on board and we’re meeting with Chadron State College and other schools in the area for their participation.”

The ultimate goal is to identify schools that will work with PEER7 to market the area for jobs and business development.

Those schools would maximize the work of their own school groups, such as the STEM classes, FFA, DECA and FBLA with area businesses to develop skills outside the classroom.

Ellis added there are also some other long-term initiatives coming up in conjunction with the University of Nebraska Innovation Center.

“It’s a great time to do economic development and be in this community and see the things that are happening,” Ellis said. “We need to have an engaged community in economic development, so what we’re trying to do is develop relationships with businesses, leaders and people who get things done. That’s basically our whole mission this year.”

The PEER7 program to connect the business community with the schools in order to grow our own workforce is one outreach of that overall mission.

Another part was the formation of a Workforce CEO Group that would establish a vision for existing employers and existing workforce. That vision takes in where the community wants to be in the next five to 10 years and what types of businesses it wants to see, TCD officials said.

Attorney Steve Olsen helped organize the Workforce CEO Summit meetings. Some of the discussions looked not only at traditional ways of job recruitment, but also untraditional ways.

“We brought in a professional site consultant to look at our community,” Olsen said. “He was blown away with our education and the partnerships we have with them. We have the potential to leverage the high school Career Academies to create partnerships with businesses.”

A third Workforce CEO Summit meeting is scheduled for December and public input is needed. For more information, contact TCD at 308-632-2833.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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