Chamber OKs change in workforce development leadership

The Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has given its OK to a plan that would shift responsibility for workforce development away from the chamber.

Chamber Director Paula Fowler said Wednesday that her board approved of the proposal made by economic development consulting company RKG and Associates that the Workforce Development Committee be run by a central economic development agency, rather than the chamber. The board’s vote was a “consensus vote” of “pretty much everybody,” she said.

The vote does not mean that the EDP has responsibility for Workforce Development; only that the Chamber of Commerce is OK with that change if the EDP votes in favor.

Fowler announced her board’s vote during a meeting of the Workforce Development Committee Wednesday morning.

“One of the recommendations of the consultant is that this gets moved from the chamber to the core economic development group of EDP. My board has agreed to that,” Fowler said. “So you all will be asked if you want to continue with whomever they hire to oversee workforce for the Economic Development Partnership. I don’t know yet when the transition date of that is, but their fiscal year starts July 1. They won’t have someone hired by July, but I just want to give you all a heads up.”

The shift in responsibility for workforce development is one of many recommendations made by RKG, which has been hired for around $83,000 to help the Economic Development Partnership develop a 5- to 7-year strategic plan.

Other recommendations include separating the Chamber of Commerce, Heart of Danville, Main Street Perryville and Convention and Visitors Bureau from the core economic development agency; renaming that core agency the Danville Boyle Development Corporation; and adding at least one new economic development staff position.

Fowler said the Chamber of Commerce board did not vote on the larger plan from RKG, just on the workforce development proposal.

EDP Chairman Ben Nelson attended the May 11 chamber board meeting to share information about RKG’s proposals and answer questions, Fowler said.

The Chamber of Commerce is a private organization not subject to the Open Meetings or Open Records acts; its board meetings are not required to be open to the public.

Fowler said the Workforce Development Committee has been a project of the chamber for around a decade.

“I saw a strong need 10 years ago for workforce development,” she said. “I went to the board and said, ‘we need a task force on workforce.’”

Prior to that, there was no group focused on workforce development in Boyle County, she said.

The topics and issues the committee tackles are diverse. It helped make Boyle County one of the first six counties in the state to receive work-ready certification; it helped reactivate the local Early Childhood Council; it worked on the broadband initiative that aims to improve internet service to rural areas of Boyle County; it’s working with community members on how to respond to the current drug epidemic that’s hurting the local workforce.

“A lot of this stuff has been a direct result of this group seeing how a lot of these issues are directly tied to workforce development,” Fowler said. “… Over 10 years, we’ve really had a lot of projects and a lot of issues we’ve tackled.”

Whether the leadership change happens depends on what the EDP decides to do with RKG’s recommendations, Fowler said.

“We won’t really know anything until the EDP board approves the plan,” she said. “That, I think, is anticipated to happen May the 24th.”

Fowler said if the change does happen, she would probably need to “refocus” her efforts on growing the chamber’s membership and the organization’s 100-year anniversary, coming up in two years. But she thinks the chamber would likely still play a role in local workforce development. Similar workforce development efforts around the state and nation are managed by chambers of commerce, she noted.

“We’ve been ‘historically bold’ for 98 years,” Fowler said during Wednesday’s meeting, referencing the newly minted branding slogan for Danville and Boyle County. “We created the Industrial Foundation and spun it off; we created the Heart of Danville and spun it off; we created the Convention and Visitors Bureau and spun it off; we created the Brass Band Festival and spun it off; we created Wilderness Trace Foundation and spun it off; now we’re going to say we created workforce development and spun it off …

“We’ve had a lot of babies we’ve birthed and put out on their own. So this is pretty much where we all agree that it needs to go.”