Being the home of a Tier 1 Research Institution, Ames is naturally positioned to reach new heights in science and technology. That same curious nature spills into our community and it is clear to see how we work together to cultivate innovation into our workforce, small businesses, programs, and initiatives.
As our lowest unemployment rate sits at just 2.1% (December 2020), our workforce continues to thrive. One of my favorite examples of innovation in the workforce is the recent partnership between the United Way of Story County, Des Moines Area Community College and the Ames Chamber of Commerce that led to the creation of the Story County Workforce Innovation Project. After receiving an $80,000 grant, the three organizations moved swiftly to develop three tracts for three of our high demand industries: healthcare, manufacturing, and welding. The program was able to offer retraining at no-cost to participants, offered childcare assistance and gifted graduates with a new laptop. In December, 26 participants proudly graduated from this program ready and equipped for a new career opportunity. This is certainly the beginning of a new approach to training and recruitment and I am excited to see how it will evolve in the future.
Another way I am proud to see Ames and Story County take innovative initiatives is the increased awareness and programming for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I see the programming we are developing at the Chamber, whether it is our Annual Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations, distributing a Minority-Owned Business Directory or hosting our new Changemaker Series, and I am proud of the growth we are promoting within our community. We see more and more organizations and businesses taking steps to broaden their DEI training and policies every day. As a result, I believe we will continue to break down barriers and identify new and creative ways to address and implement change in our community.
As our businesses continue to create innovative new products and services, the Chamber will continue to diversify our programming and events to further support them. In addition to our longstanding programs like Leadership Ames and See Yourself in Ames, we will be introducing a number of new and revamped events. In addition to the Changemaker Series, we will be introducing our Townhall Experiences. These events will feature virtual panels of leaders in major industries in Story County and Boone and will create an opportunity for these industries to showcase what they are doing. The Townhalls will also welcome those who are unfamiliar with specific industries to learn more about our local economy and better understand how our businesses serve the community. We are also making changes to our Leadership Series that will include sessions on Women in Leadership, Small Business Leadership, Leadership for the Rural Business and more.
Innovation is so important to the Chamber that it is one of our core values. How do we define innovation? Thinking BIG, being unafraid, and challenging the status quo. As I often do with my team, I encourage you to live in an innovative mindset. In our case, one idea can lead to a new workforce program, event, or initiative for our community. What innovation will your next idea inspire?
It’s almost upon us - here we are on the cusp on the holiday season and with that comes the surge of shopping for the perfect gift for those on your shopping list. On behalf of the Ames Chamber of Commerce board of directors, my team, and myself, we all urge you to put every shopping dollar you can back into our local business community.
Shopping local has always mattered but it has never mattered more than today. Our friends and neighbors that open their businesses every day have never needed us more than they do now. So here is your chance. Pledge with me to check items off your shopping list right here in Ames and Story County.
November 28th we will celebrate Small Business Saturday. Make every effort to get out and support the small businesses that support our community. Shopping small is great way to get involved in the community, strengthen local economic development, and sustain the businesses that have been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Share the joy of the season and shop small!
At the same time don’t forget to check out the numerous businesses at North Grand Mall. The mall is a long-time member of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, is locally owned, and we have a number of member businesses there as well. These members provide employment opportunities to a large sector of our region too; and they need sales to keep our friends and neighbors employed as well. In fact, shop any business in Ames and Story County because there is a very good chance, they are supporting your kid’s team, your favorite Story County school booster club, or your favorite charity.
This is your chance! Think Downtown, Campustown, South Duff, North Grand Mall, Story City, Huxley, and Nevada - make those cash registers ring here and not in some distant distribution center in a faraway place. Whether you are a Black Friday shopper or the last-minute day before Christmas shopper – be the shopper that chooses to #ShopStoryCounty and plow your resources back into the community you call home.
And don’t forget about all of our fabulous restaurants, coffee houses, and taverns. They would love to sell you a gift card for the hard-to-buy person on your list to get their favorite meal or drink at one of our great Chamber member establishments around Ames and Story County.
We can do this! Join me in celebrating the season by purchasing from the businesses owned by your friends and neighbors and the businesses that employ your friends and neighbors.
Diversity and Inclusion is essential for our community's growth. Over the past several years this topic has been brought to the forefront of the workforce dialogue. We are pleased that so many businesses and organizations see and understand the need to empower leaders to be as well-equipped as possible to properly embrace diversity, work toward universal equity and continually develop Ames into the Smart Choice to live, work and play.
Three years ago, we first answered the call for a greater focus on diversity, inclusion and equity by partnering with the City of Ames Human Relations Commission and Iowa State University Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to host the first-ever Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations. We analyzed feedback from our members and community to provide a wider range of topics and break-out sessions at the second annual Symposium in 2019. Earlier this year we heeded another call for more support for our minority-owned businesses by creating a Minority Owned Business Directory and hosting a round-table discussion with minority owned business owners. We recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion are not merely buzzwords. They create a call to action for everyone.
I am excited to invite you all to heed this call by attending the third annual Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations with me. Like so many events this year, the Symposium will be held virtually so all can participate from the safety of our offices and homes. In an effort to keep everyone from getting Zoom-fatigue, we are hosting the sessions over two half-days on November 12-13. Our presenters have all worked on their presentations to optimize them for a virtual audience, promising an engaging and informative time. You’ll walk away with new strategies and tools in creating a culture of dignity, understanding implicit bias at work and so much more.
We are mindful of how important this conversation is to our community moving forward, and hosting this symposium is just one thing we are doing. We will continue to be advocates of the NAACP, Ames Pride, the Ames Miracle Park and other initiatives that help build community, foster mutual respect and ensure equality of rights for all.
Join us on November 12 from noon - 5:00, and November 13 from 8:00 - noon to build more diverse and inclusive organizations and help Ames and Story County be the most welcoming place to live, work and do business.
With the presidential election garnering much of the media and national attention, state and local candidates seeking election or re-election on this year’s ballot are often overshadowed. As we prepare to cast our ballots, I urge you to look critically at all the names, not just the ones at the top, and remember that decisions made by your local officials are the ones that impact your day-to-day life.
We are fortunate to live in a vibrant and financially thriving community. Because of outstanding local leadership at the state, county, and municipal levels, Ames and Story County continue to flourish. We continue to see investment throughout the community that equates to a high quality of life. This vitality doesn’t happen by chance – it is a direct result of strong and visionary leadership.
At the county level, elected offices on this year’s ballot will have direct control over the funding of programs that keep us moving forward. They will work to guarantee services are continually offered to smaller communities throughout the county maintaining a high standard of living for all residents, and that economic and community development are front and center as the county continues to grow.
Elected officials on the state level will make determinations on Iowa State University’s appropriations moving forward, as well as the appropriations to the Iowa Department of Transportation and Des Moines Area Community College. They formulate and implement policies that can have major implications for the City of Ames, Story County, and our neighboring municipalities, and oversee state programs that have directly impacted several major employers here in Ames and throughout Story County.
Although presidential and national races tend to receive the most attention, as we move closer to the 2020 General Election on Tuesday, November 3, please don’t forget the impact our state and local elected officials have on your daily life. This year’s election is more accessible than ever to vote. With mail-in, absentee, and in-person voting available starting as early as October 5, there is no reason why you can’t vote your voice. To the consistent, steady, and reliable voters, thank you. To those who do not consider themselves politically active and maybe have never voted before, there is no time like the present. All necessary voter and election materials can be attained on the Story County website, www.storycountyiowa.gov.
What happens on the local level matters. Whether you believe we are on a great path or have room for improvement, or maybe a little of both, know this: your voice can, and should, be heard this election. Make sure your voice is heard for this year’s 2020 election!
2020 has managed to throw yet another curveball our way.
The damage the derecho left was far and wide. No one was exempt from its impact, we saw tangled power lines, hundred-year old trees spilt in two, and lived in darkness for a period of time. But in my observation, that wasn’t where the impact ended.
Shortly after the storm cleared up, hundreds of people poured into the streets to help. Some moved trees that were blocking roads or helped neighbors remove debris from yards. Others delivered water to those working outside and opened their homes to those who had to wait the longest for power to return. Generators were shared and folks quickly found a silver lining in the opportunity to more clearly see the Neowise comet without typical light pollution. This is exactly what it means to be #StoryCountyStrong.
This kind of unity and perseverance is one of the many reasons I’ve always been proud to call Ames and Story County my home. We saw this earlier in the year when COVID-19 first hit our community. Instead of bemoaning the challenges, we saw businesses quickly implement innovative solutions to continue operation in new ways, like renting out their fitness equipment and creating personalized style boxes. Neighbors checked in on each other to ensure everyone’s needs were met. Families went on bear hunts throughout the community. We banded together and eagerly poured over $100,000 into local businesses through the Buy-In Story County gift card program. And later, we welcomed students back with open arms with gentle reminders of our community’s new expectations and changes.
Now, in the midst of a historic storm, we continue to push forward. I want to give special thanks to the City of Ames and their Electric Services department, along with other critical providers like Alliant Energy, Midland Power Cooperative, Consumers Energy, and ITC, that serve our communities every day. In addition to them, thanks to the electric providers throughout the state of Iowa that mobilized and came to support our incumbent providers in getting the lights back on, and the Department of Transportation for their help in clearing roadways of trees and debris.
As we move into the fall, I challenge you to keep going. Continue to set an example of working for the greater good. We are in this together and together we are #StoryCountyStrong.
It is well known that the student body of Iowa State University makes up nearly half of our population, making Ames a true college town. It is because of our students we have great entertainment amenities, accessible public transportation, and a thriving community. These students live in Ames for the majority of the year, shopping at our local boutiques, dining at our one-of-a-kind restaurants, and investing in our community. Their economic impact is essential for Story County's success.
As we prepare for thousands of Iowa State students to return to Ames, we have an incredible opportunity to show them their impact on our community.
We all know that these are certainly unprecedented times, and the return of our students has caused quite a stir in the local community. What will happen when they return? Will they practice responsible habits, like social distancing and wearing face coverings?
Not only are we uncertain, but so are the students. They are either returning to Story County after a long, six-month break or they will be stepping into Ames for the first time. They will not know which businesses are open or offering updated services. They will not know our community’s expectations. They have not been here since March and have not grown with us as we navigate our new normal. This will be an entirely new experience for both them and us.
It's up to us to make them feel welcome, and share with them the new expectations of our community. Let us welcome them back with a celebration.
At the Ames Chamber of Commerce, we are working on a new "Welcome Home" campaign to show our students we recognize their impact and we're glad they have finally returned. One small part of this campaign includes volunteers delivering welcome home posters to all our members and businesses in Ames. Included on this poster is the Cyclones Care messaging from Iowa State University. While we want our students to feel like they have returned (or arrived for the first time) home, it is our responsibility to help them understand their behavior will impact the next several months.
Spreading the healthy habit message is only one small part of this campaign - it is also built to help bring us together as a community and make us feel as one again. Story County has been distancing since March. It's difficult to be away from loved ones for so long. We did a great job as a community uniting together to spread positive messaging and show we were in this together. It is time to bring back that energy.
This campaign hopes to bring everyone together and spread positive vigor throughout the county. Let us bring back the neighborhood bear hunts, updated as “Cy Hunts” to unite us together. Decorate your windows welcoming the students back. Post to social media encouraging the students to check out your updated hours and services. Create specials to bring them back in.
We have quite an opportunity to welcome the students back with open arms and make them feel at home.
Whatever you do to bring us together, share it on social media with the tag #StoryCountyStrong so the Ames Chamber of Commerce can reshare and amplify your message. For more ideas and resources to get involved with this campaign, visit www.AmesChamber.com.
Diversity and inclusion have been a unifying goal in Ames and Story County for several years, but implementing a real cultural shift has become more imperative now than ever before. At the Ames Chamber of Commerce, we are mindful of how important this conversation is to our community moving forward and while we have been advocates for inclusion for many years, we know we can, and must, do more.
Our organization is currently working to pull together a comprehensive list of minority-owned businesses in Story County. By developing this list, we can open the line of dialogue and learn how we can support our business owners of color. We anticipate our conversations will bring a new awareness of needs and unique differences minority-owned businesses owners face on a day-to-day basis that we haven’t previously recognized. Once we have a better understanding of these needs, we will work to develop programming specific to meeting those needs and supporting them. When all businesses in Story County flourish, so does our community. We are dedicated to supporting our locally minority-owned businesses; however, we must listen before we act and this is the first step toward doing just that.
Not only have we been called to support our community’s business owners of color, we have also been called to help raise awareness and educate the greater community on why these issues are important and how we can all help.
Since the inception of our Symposium on Building Inclusive Organizations three years ago, our members and attendees of the event have called for smaller discussion-based events with the same mission. We are working to develop a series of discussion-based roundtables for business and community leaders to engage with each other and develop the tools they need to further enhance inclusivity in their workplaces and throughout Ames and Story County.
Fostering an inclusive community is not the work of one organization, person, or group. It is the responsibility of us all. As individuals, we know that being intentional in developing a more inclusive community is the right thing to do. It just makes sense. Who doesn’t want to feel safe and respected in their communities and to be accepted for who they are? Creating a welcoming community is an ongoing discussion and process, and everyone’s responsibility. We must all listen, and we must all continue to learn.
If you are looking for resources to get started, check out the Ames Public Library, the NAACP, Ames Pride, the City of Ames Human Relations Commission and the Iowa State University Office of Diversity & Inclusion. All of these organizations have some incredible resources to help us continue to build community, foster mutual respect, and ensure equality of rights for all.
Each May the Ames Economic Development Commission (AEDC) celebrates Economic Development Week, commemorating the power of partnerships and highlighting the importance of a coordinated economic development effort in our communities.
Two years ago, we launched the hashtag #StoryGrows in conjunction with Economic Development Week. We came up with this simple catchphrase as a way to share the story of economic growth in our communities not just during Economic Development Week, but throughout the entire year.
This year our plans changed a bit. While we will still keep #StoryGrows as a tag to highlight economic success throughout Story County, we have also added the tag #StoryCountyStrong to our communications. #StoryCountyStrong is our way of uniting the communities together through the current hardships we are facing. It is designed to build unity and spread positivity. To put it simply, our story cannot grow unless we are #StoryCountyStrong.
I truly believe we are #StoryCountyStrong. Although it may feel like we are at a standstill while we wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, we are still moving forward and growing our community. Burke Corporation is hiring over 200 people for the expansion they have nearly completed, and Amcor just announced the creation of 42 jobs a few weeks ago. These expansions tell that we are not withering away in the face adversity, but instead confronting the challenges head on to show that we are strong, united, and we will not let our community fall.
The AEDC team will continue to work for our communities, finding the next great job-creator, attracting the next big business, supporting the up and coming startups, and advocating for the next quality of life amenity. We refuse to let Story County down, we will continue to build, continue to grow, and continue to remain strong.
I encourage you to follow our Facebook and Twitter pages (@AmesEDC) May 4-8 so we can show you the many ways our story continues despite the pandemic we are in. Remember, we are in this together, and together we are #StoryCountyStrong.
As I talk with business owners and community leaders about how they are weathering the effects of this major public health crisis, I grow more and more confident in our ability to surpass this and thrive beyond it.
I’ve watched my team step up to the plate to get any and all resources out to our business community. I’ve experienced grocery store employees work themselves dry getting all the available product on the shelves as quickly as possible. I’ve talked with business owners who are collaborating to set up delivery systems and sell each other’s products on their websites to keep doors open. I’ve seen neighbors walk across the street to check on their elderly neighbors to make sure they’re okay and help out where they can.
Each incredible moment like these speaks volumes of our community, and I find myself growing even prouder of this place I call home. My family and I have lived here since 2006, and I have seen this community rally around common goals in the past, and I am certain of our ability to band together and come out of this stronger than ever.
At the Ames Chamber of Commerce, the majority of our staff is working from home but still working double-time to support our members and business community. Our job is to listen and support our businesses, and in times like this our role is amplified to a new level.
We’ve been in constant communication with our members through email updates sharing new and relevant resources they may find value in as well as video interviews featuring local experts on topics from healthcare to workforce concerns. All of these resources are being provided to help address the questions our members have during this unprecedented time.
We aren’t sure when we will get the all-clear to return to businesses as usual, but we know that day will come and we’ll hit the ground running. Whether that day is in two weeks or six, we must remain resilient and keep our attitudes high. It is easy to get bogged down with the news and reports as we start to feel the cabin fever, but we must forge ahead and prepare for the day when the doors can open to the public again.
We have been tested before, and we’re being tested right now. We will come out of this and we will come out better than ever before. In the meantime, order carryout from one of our numerous restaurants, buy a gift card for a purchase another day, support and check in on each other, remain positive, and spread calm. Together, we are #StoryCountyStrong.
“What keeps you up at night?” This is the question I ask when conversing with business owners and Chamber members. The number one answer across the entire county is workforce. Our business owners are collectively facing barriers recruiting and retaining employees throughout Story County.
This doesn’t surprise me. With a 2% unemployment rate and more than 1,600 jobs openings, we have an extreme shortage of eligible workers in our county. So much so, it is the number one priority we are striving to address on our new strategic plan, A Bold Vision, which we rolled out in January of this year. Lack of employees is just one piece of the puzzle; however, we have found through research completed by the Iowa Women’s Foundation and our annual Business Retention and Expansion visits with area companies that it’s not simply a lack of people in our community, rather it’s a growing need for childcare.
When parents can’t fill the childcare need for their children, they find it hard to justify working in the community. Oftentimes, when childcare is too expensive or hard to come by, someone in the family stays home to care for the children during the day, removing them from the workforce. We have found that these caregivers want to work in the community but don’t have the essential care for their children during the day. This is one of many target audiences we have been working to advocate on behalf of at the Ames Chamber of Commerce.
On a state level, we are supporting the passage of eight active pieces of legislation related to improving childcare. Each of these address a specific need within the childcare issue, such as affordability, accessibility, and on-site facility expansions. If passed, these bills will ensure childcare is adequately addressed and quality childcare is provided to all who need it, making Iowa as a whole a more family-friendly place to work and live. When the issues of how your children will be cared for while you are at work is covered and no longer an issue, quality of life, quality of place, and quality of work will only increase.
On a local level, we have found that not only is childcare expensive, it’s increasingly lacking in our community, which is why it is so hard to come by. We are supporting the Child Care Ready program developed by Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral. This program held an orientation last week at the Ames Public Library for anyone interested in becoming a professional childcare provider. The Ames Chamber of Commerce is a proud sponsor of this two-week program that includes free training and technical assistance on the multitude of career pathways available within the childcare industry, navigating the Department of Human Services employment process, and more. When those who want to work in childcare are able to access the resources and trainings needed to do so, then we can begin to provide a range of opportunities for children of all ages, allowing parents and guardians the opportunity to work in their preferred fields.
These are only a couple of the ways we have worked to address the growing need of childcare in our community. As the year continues, we will continue to advocate for more programming, training, and opportunities to grow our county’s workforce. As many more programs and bills appear to support these efforts, we will be the champions advocating for their success, and I hope you will join me in supporting these efforts.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.