Young professionals gathered at the Chamber March 9, brought together by The Network and Leadership Springfield, to learn about the two initiatives on the April 3 ballot requesting support for Ozarks Technical Community College.
The morning began with an informational presentation about the school’s requests, given by Matthew Simpson, OTC’s director of research, strategic planning and grant development. He told the group what the two requests entail:
- Proposition A is a renewal of a five-cent property tax, approved by voters in 1998, that has been used to complete the college’s Industry and Transportation Technology Center and to establish many high-demand technical and health care degrees
- Proposition B is an additional five-cent property tax, also with a 20-year sunset, that would allow OTC to create a Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology with training focused on skills needed for quality jobs in our region, as well as expanding technical and allied health programs at the Richwood Valley and Table Rock campuses.
Later, Matthew handed the stage to a panel that discussed why it’s important to support the school’s funding needs. Panelists included Laura Head Elliott, director of marketing for Big Whiskey’s American Restaurant & Bar; Andrew Hedgpeth, an OTC graduate and CoxHealth’s vice president of human resources; Laura Starks, vice president of HR for Mercy; and Travis Weathermon, HR manager for SRC Holdings Corporation.
Both Hedgpeth and Starks said the need to help OTC grow its allied health training programs is crucial, as both health systems have hundreds of open positions and are only watching demand for their services grow.
“As the demand for services grows and continues to outpace supply, we depend on OTC to help us with that challenge and help us meet those needs,” Starks said. “There are more than 20 OTC programs that help us, and we need every one of those programs.”
Weathermon said the need is also critical – and growing – in advanced manufacturing, and SRC is in a highly competitive industry. “Jack Stack has said that one of our top priorities is to create sustainable jobs that will benefit our community,” he said. “But the skills we need aren’t readily available locally, and we’ve been forced to look outside of the local market. The new Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Technology would help address that.”
Hedgpeth offered a unique perspective, being both involved in the health care industry and an OTC graduate who grew up in the area—the Nixa native used the A+ scholarship program to get his associate’s degree from OTC.
“The school had awesome educators who took the time to sit down with me and explain the curriculum, and small class sizes that offered a great learning experience,” he said. “They’re one of the lowest taxing colleges in the state, so it really speaks to the value they bring. I wouldn’t be where I am without their help, and I will forever be indebted to OTC for what they did for me.”
Elliott encouraged everyone to get involved, as the young professionals in the room and their colleagues will be the people to shape the direction of our region for the coming decades.
“We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, especially in our social networks, but chances are, those people agree with us anyway,” she said. “Our challenge is to reach beyond that and talk to people who aren’t in our inner circle and aren’t aware of these challenges. We need to challenge ourselves to get those people to vote – this is their community too.”