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Aug 19, 2010

Human Service Chamber of Franklin County: Bringing Tremendous Potential

I just finished my August column for Columbus Business First. In it I talk about the tremendous potential the new Human Service Chamber of Franklin County can make to economic development in Central Ohio. Human services agencies are not usually involved in economic development planning or implementation. The reasons are familiar. The dozens of agencies with widely varying missions and sizes are too numerous to include in economic development planning meetings. And no one agency is sufficiently representative to represent the views of the others. Add to that the skepticism among governmental and corporate leaders of what human service agencies could bring to the table other than requests for money.

The HS Chamber is a 501(c)(4), so it will seek to influence legislation and funding. That is what everyone expects from any coalition like this. At a recent Rotary meeting, Qiana Williams, the executive director of the chamber, described its works to this mostly business audience. Almost all the questions presumed that the sole purpose of the Chamber was to get more money for the member agencies. This reflects a lack of imagination. It is also a major peril for any coalition of nonprofits. The Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium fell into this trap when, after a great beginning that visulalized the community needs it could address, it focused almost exclusively for two years on its fundraising initiative Thrive in Five. While that program was innovative and necessary, it fed the stereotype that the Consortium was really just about helping the nonprofits, not about advancing what the community leadership felt it needed.

Columbus 2020, the new business-driven strategy for local economic development has decided that supporting existing businesses is a key to prosperity and that meeting their workforce needs is an important part of that strategy. They conceptualize this as a government-business joint task. They should imagine this as a task for the human services nonprofits and the business community. In my column I describe the potential for using the Human Service Chamber as a way to unite the ideas and experience of the nonprofits with the needs and plans of the business community. And it would go a long way to dispel the stereotype that nonprofits are just about asking for money.

Thanks to Qiana Williams for cluing me in to some important thinking about changes in the way businesses find qualified workers. 

  • The thinking of Anthony Carnevale and the need to train educationally-disadvantaged individuals, not just college-bound students. 
  • The historical perspective of Kalleberg, Knoke, and Marsden on how in the 1990s corporations ended their practices of providing the training needed to qualify for entry-level jobs and now expect workers to develop the needed skills on their own.
  • And the labor force components of the Columbus 2020 plan are to “address workforce needs that impede operational stability and growth of regional businesses.”

 You can learn more about the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County here.