Wichita Falls Chamber hopes to launch program to bring skilled workers

Wichita Falls Chamber hopes to launch program to bring skilled workers

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) – Manufacturers in Wichita Falls are hoping to partner with the Chamber of Commerce to attract workers to the area.

Finding workers for manufacturing jobs in the area has been difficult. It is a challenge Sharp Iron Group President Michael Stanford knows all about.

“One of the things that’s common among manufacturers is finding skilled labor. There’s a lot of great trade schools and training here locally but they don’t always churn out enough capacity,” he said.

In the five years he has been president, he has seen how stiff the competition to hire welders can be.

“It seems like when we’re hiring welders, everybody’s hiring welders,” he said.

So, they had to come up with a new approach to hiring.

The Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce stepped in to help. President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, Henry Florsheim said, “We know that it costs more money for a company to try to recruit a professional employee from out of town, to get them to move here…”

Through their partnership, Sharp Iron Group was able to offer more incentives to attract those workers, and the chamber helped offset those costs.

Sharp Iron ended up of hiring more welders, “We brought in three, so I think it was very successful,” Stanford said.

Now the Chamber plans to build upon that concept.

“Since we did that, we had several other companies come up and say, ‘Hey can we get assistance like that?’ We said, ‘We really need to create a structured program instead of just doing a one-off every time a company came to us’,” Florsheim stated.

If companies bring workers from outside of the area and have them on the payroll for a certain period of time, the Chamber will help offset those costs.

They have already gotten approval for the plan from the Wichita Falls 4A Board, but the final decision of whether or not the chamber will receive the $200,000 they need to get their pilot project off the ground will fall to City Council.

“This could help bring 33 to 50 new people to Wichita Falls and possibly their families as well,” Florsheim added.

Watch the video from Newschannel 6 here.

Growing jobs in Wichita Falls: Economic Development

Advance programs and policies that improve the local business climate and give Wichita Falls the best chance to grow jobs and investment in the coming years.

A primary focus for this strategic planning process was the community’s desire to become more prosperous. This will require increasing and improving opportunities for employment.

Most individuals and households rely upon the availability of quality jobs to increase their standards of living. On a larger scale, wealth accumulates in regions when local business establishments “export” goods and services to other markets in the United States and beyond. So while every aspect of this Strategy can help make Wichita Falls more economically competitive in the long run, a holistic approach to economic development must also consider opportunities to grow jobs and investment sooner rather than later.

For decades, many communities and their economic development organizations have exclusively associated “economic development” with “business recruitment.” While the recruitment is an important component of an economic development program, it comprises only one-third of a “three-legged stool.”

In fact, employment growth is primarily driven by the other two legs of the stool – expansions of existing businesses and entrepreneurship. Successful communities now pursue a balanced approach that incorporates business recruitment, business retention and expansion (BRE), and support for new enterprises.

This portion of the strategic plan focuses on programs and policies that Wichita Falls can pursue to grow jobs and investment in the next five years. Additional opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial activity are addressed separately with the Makerspace initiative.

CONNECTIONS TO COMMUNITY GOALS

Attract and retain residents and businesses: This Catalyst focuses specifically on attracting and retaining businesses and ensuring a competitive overall business climate.

Increase prosperity for all residents: Creating an attractive environment for jobs and investment is critical to raising standards of living for residents in Wichita Falls.

Enhance the quality of life and quality of place: Business attraction and retention has an indirect yet major influence on community vibrancy.

Promote inclusivity and equity: Many businesses now recognize diversity and inclusion as core values that impact the bottom line; this Catalyst includes a Tactical Recommendation that seeks to create a business culture of inclusion and expand opportunities for all residents.

Improve internal and external perceptions of Wichita Falls: While business location decisions are influenced by many factors, a reputation as a “good place to do business” is a valuable asset.

ACTION TEAM

Nick Schreiber, SLA Architects
Lacey Morgan, Care Team
Glenn Barham, Sheppard Military Affairs Committee
Dick Bundy, Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter, Inc
Tony Fidelie, Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott
Henry Florsheim, Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce
Scott Poenitzsch, Horseshoe Bend Cellars Vineyard & Winery, Inc.
Stephen Santellana, City of Wichita Falls
Dr. Jeff Stambaugh, Midwestern State University – Dillard College
Darron Leiker, City of Wichita Falls
Barry Donnell, Barry Donnell
Monica Wilkinson, Vernon College
Katie Britt, Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce
Debbie Dobbins, Debbie Dobbins International

Identify Target Business Sectors & Marketing Program and Make Upgrades

Target industry has been identified as Aerospace Manufacturing. This initiative will be led by the Chamber which has been actively targeting this industry since 2016.

Recommendations:
• Update Economic Development Website (www.landinwichitafalls.com) with improved copy and content
• Develop quality print collateral promoting community and target sectors
• Curate tradeshows and other direct sales opportunities to ensure acceptable ROI’s
• Inbound marketing event to showcase the community to site consultants or other key decision-makers
• Work with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) to recruit conferences and meetings that align with targeted sectors

Improve capabilities to track and respond to employer needs identified through business retention and expansion (BRE) activities

Recommendations:

• Most best-practice BRE programs utilize specialized software to track and manage existing business and coordinate partner responses to identified opportunities and challenges. Wichita Falls has an established BRE initiative but lacks these important tools.
• Obtain specialized software (such as Synchronist or ExecutivePulse) to track BRE activities and assign and manage follow-up tasks for partners
• As tracking capabilities improve, work with economic development partners to identify and address consistent themes, challenges, etc. that emerge from BRE activities

Already in place:
The Chamber has a designated BRE staff member, Travis Haggard.

Formalize a streamlined permitting and "pre-construction" process for major relocations, expansions and renovations

Recommendations:

• Develop a framework to formalize “one-stop” pre-construction meetings to help ease the regulatory process for major development and redevelopment projects; the City of Wichita Falls has previously offered these meetings on occasion
• Pre-construction meetings would convene representatives from all relevant government entities and departments to discuss project specifics and regulatory requirements and develop plans to work through any issues
• Continue quarterly meetings between the development community and key elected and department leaders from the City of Wichita Falls; leverage these discussions to develop the framework

Ensure that available sites and buildings are ready to accommodate end-users

Recommendations:
• Competitive economic development projects frequently require sites or buildings that can be readied within a short amount of time; accordingly, communities must ensure that their real estate “product” is as ready as possible to accommodate new development and/or users
• Inventory conditions at key sites and buildings to ensure that they are ready to accommodate likely development
• Examine planning/zoning and other regulatory conditions, site access, environmental conditions, building condition, etc.
• For sites owned by the community’s 4A entity, the Wichita Falls Economic Development Corporation (WFEDC), invest in feasible upgrades as soon as possible to ensure that the site can accommodate a project working on a tight timeframe, thereby giving it the best chance of producing a positive return on investment for local taxpayers
• Seek the Texas Economic Development Council’s S.T.A.R certified site designation for one or more “shovel-ready” sites to help promote the most promising development opportunities in the community

Establish a diversity business council to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion

Recommendations:
• Work with the Chamber and other public and private partners to form a council and encourage local firms to participate
• Develop and administer an annual workplace inclusivity survey to identify and measure local diversity and inclusion efforts; report findings in an annual report
• Establish an annual diversity summit to raise the profile of the community’s commitment to creating opportunities and increasing prosperity for all residents
• Work with council members, Leadership Wichita Falls, and others to increase diversity on local boards of directors

Align the community’s legislative agenda, public policies, and outreach programs with strategic economic development needs

Recommendations:
• Many aspects of community and economic development are closely intertwined with matters of public policy at the local, state, and federal levels; accordingly, best-practice communities work cooperatively to craft public policy advocacy agendas that promote economic growth and community vibrancy and help advance the Catalysts in this Strategy
• Work collaboratively with the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, the Sheppard Military Affairs Commission, and local, state, and federal partners to craft annual legislative agendas that support holistic economic development needs and allow the community to speak with one cohesive voice
• Given the relatively high concentrations of government employment in Wichita Falls, continue to maintain strong relationships with legislative delegations to ensure that the community is well-represented at the state and federal levels