Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
The world is beginning to slowly reopen…including Ottawa. The governor yesterday created a half-step to her 3-Phase plan…so now instead of moving to Phase 2 on Monday, we are in Phase 1.5 of the now (assumed) 3.5 step phase plan of Ad Astra Plan to reopen Kansas. Phase 1.5 allows for personal services to reopen…such as barbers, hair and nail salons but with appointments only.  Most Ottawa downtown businesses have reopened this week (or last) with at least limited hours…some report fairly normal foot-traffic. It’s going to be important to support our local merchants to help our community recover from the economic catastrophe this pandemic has potentially caused.  
 
I want to emphasize there are still funds available to aid businesses in making it through to the other side of this epidemic. Federally the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) still has money available…best way to initiate this funding is to call your local banker. All local banks have been involved in helping local businesses secure some of this funding. Locally we have the Community Block Development Grants (application here), the American Eagle Outfitters Foundation fund (application here) and the IWW (Investment Without Walls) (email Ottawa Main Street Association) all available. For more information regarding any of these revenue streams (or to submit a completed application) email the City of Ottawa Community Development Department (phone number: 785.229.3620).
 
Reopening Business Resource:
 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a good friend and resource during these turbulent economic times. Yesterday they launched their new digital resource center, Reopening Business (follow the link). The online resource is aimed at helping America’s business community with the latest state guidelines, sector-specific guidance, small business advice, and other tools and resources as we look to reopen safely and keep employees and customers healthy and informed. The U.S. Chamber is also a tremendous advocate for business in Congress…pushing for all the relief packages passed to date and for some that are yet to come. I recommend perusing the site…as I said, it’s a good resource.
 
OHS Graduation – June 6:
 
Many have felt a pang of sorrow for seniors in high school which have been forced to forgo their final semester of their final year…a time most remember as a long goodbye to classmates. It has meant missing their senior prom and probably most important…the Senior Graduation Ceremony. This week the Ottawa School Board approved a plan to allow for a “drive-through” graduation ceremony…whereby the seniors arrive by car on the south side of the school in an organized driving processional. Each student is allowed 2 cars in the graduation parade so friends and family can experience the significant life achievement with their student…when it’s their turn to pull up to the “stage”, family members will be able to disembark to take pictures and celebrate the accomplishment as the student received their diploma. Not necessarily conventional but I think very creative given the circumstances…KOFO will broadcast the event live on the air. At least this provides an official way to congratulate seniors with some sort of formal sendoff. They will have a graduation everyone will remember!!
 
BCBS Pathways Grant:
 
Back in 2016, Franklin County was one of the 6 original counties awarded the BCBS Pathways Grant to help create a healthier community…Midge Ransom wrote the original grant and Shelia Robertson has administered the funds locally. In the beginning we received $100,000.00 which allowed us to access even more funds and accomplish some great projects across the entire county. This week BCBS released a brief video about Franklin County as a healthy pathway community and many of our completed projects…you can view the video here. Shelia is in the process of writing for Phase 2 of the BCBS Pathways Grant which would allow us to go even further in providing incentives to create healthier lifestyles. It’s awesome to have community partners like the Franklin County Health Department which watches out for our health…not just during a pandemic crisis, but every day!! 
 
Playground at Legacy Square:   
 
The future playground which will begin construction soon (probably sometime in June) is partially funded by monies from the BCBS Pathways grant funds. In addition to the truck donated by Kalmar Industries for kids to play on there will be several pieces of playground equipment, including a pirate’s cove! The play area will be surfaced with rubber from recycled tires thanks to a grant written by Wynndee Lee from the City of Ottawa. The Goppert Foundation also paid a nice portion of the dollars needed for the future kid’s play area. It’s unbelievable how expensive playgrounds are to build…we are not just talking a swing set and a slippery slide however. Located kitty-cornered from Legacy Square on the northwest corner of Walnut and 1st Street intersection…the playground should be fabulous once complete.
 
AARP Age-Friendly Community:
 
The Baby Boomers are getting older (and I resemble that remark)…the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has begun identifying communities which make extra effort to create an environment for their city to be livable for all ages. So far 7 states, 1 territory and 462 communities nationwide have earned the AARP Age-Friendly gold standard designation…Ottawa has just been named the first community in Kansas. You can see the complete list here. Among the requirements for Age-Friendly designation are the following:
  • Age-Friendly communities are inclusive and considerate of the perspectives of all residents, of all ages, and all persuasions. 
  • Age-Friendly communities encourage and benefit from diverse citizen engagement by including residents in a process to identify the community’s needs, and develop and implement an action plan to address those needs.
More than anything the designation of age-friendly takes a commitment by leadership to actively work towards making a city a great place to live and work.  Thanks to our leadership…but then – I have always known Ottawa is a great place to live and work…this just makes it more official!!
 
Greater Appreciation:
 
In a conversation this week with USD 290 Superintendent, Dr. Ryan Cobbs he made a statement that in my mind was philosophical in nature. He commented, “If we have learned nothing else from this crisis, students have a greater appreciation for schools and the educational environment we have in this community and parents have a greater appreciation for teachers and the work they do every day.” A truer statement has never been made!!
 
An observation I made this week…we need to stop saying, when we return to normal…” – what we will return to is a new reality…and it will look, be and feel different. It will take some getting used to in order to wrap our minds around the changes which will/are the inevitable…but we are survivors – we will get there!
 
Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000