Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
September and October (so far) have treated us to Kansas weather at its best!! Our local September events were all big and successful (thanks to beautiful weather)…this last weekend, Baldwin City reported record crowds for their Maple Leaf Festival – in excess of 18,000 people. Last Sunday afternoon I drove past the Louisburg Cider Mill…I couldn’t believe the crowds. Traffic was backed up a half-mile on either side of the Mill and they had safety patrol officers directing traffic on K-68…wow!
 
I was over that direction headed to Pittsburg, Kansas. The Chamber of Commerce Executives of Kansas (CCEKS) met for 3-days at a conference in the Southeast Kansas community. I don’t get to Pittsburg often, but I’m always impressed with the community when there. Their early culture and history go back to strip mining and coal. The area was rich with the “black gold” but they literally dug out of the ground with giant track hoes. What is left a hundred years later is a labyrinth of lakes and ponds teeming with fish and surrounded by deer. Hunting and fishing is a big industry for them created by their past. 
 
The CCEKS meet every fall to compare notes, console one another and take new ideas back to our home communities…it is always like hitting the refresh button for most of us. One of the bigger items to move forward this year is a group health insurance plan for all Chamber members. This could be really big for Kansas businesses large and small…to be launched a year from now and providing BCBS health insurance as a large group of Kansas Chambers beginning in 2023. This has only become a legal option recently and our group understood the advantages immediately…I’ll keep you posted as we will roll out the option to Chamber members locally – probably next spring. This will become another very big benefit of your Chamber membership should you choose to participate. 
 
Full STEAM Ahead:
 
Here is an example of inspiration, youth, entrepreneurial spirit and education all coming together! A group of Ottawa High School students, under the direction of Lori Hower, the OHS Technology Integration Coach and Dennis Menefee, the Automotive Technology Education teacher…both partner to oversee and help students in the construction of the mobile lab. The students began with a bus and are creating a mobile STEAM learning lab. STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. As the high school students in the Auto Tech and Design classes create
this mobile learning lab from SCRATCH – they are experiencing hands-on
activities supporting communication, collaboration, problem-solving and more (here are a few pictures). The STEAM bus eventually will go on the road to visit the district elementary schools, county events & neighboring school districts, local businesses, education events and many more learning opportunities. The project is being funded by local businesses and donations…but here is some (even more) exciting news. American Eagle Outfitters announced this week the company will donate $15,000.00 to help equip the bus with needed teaching tools. The teaching on the bus will be wholly and completely facilitated by
high school students. This project is a collaborative learning adventure for
ALL! I can’t wait to see this “classroom” mobiling down the road and in action. What a great example of inspiration of partnering with local businesses and learning new skills…OHS faculty and students are setting the bar pretty high!!
 
Kalmar Truck:
 
Can you stand one more story of local industry partnering with the community…this week, Kalmar delivered to the Goppert Kids Park at Legacy Square a Kalmar Truck. This truck has been modified and now fully ready for kids to climb and play on (pictures here). Of course Legacy Square is one big story about the community partnering…but Kalmar stepped up with a big cash donation and also agreed to provide this “play” truck to add a unique amenity to the community playground. Here’s another neat coincidence…the corner where the truck and playground are situated, was the location of an early Ottawa industry – Ottawa Steel. This company employed the 3 individuals which made the first Ottawa Truck…at this location. Here are a few pictures of then Ottawa Steel…now Goppert Kid’s Playground taken in 1951 after the big flood. Everything kind of came full circle didn’t it. 
 
Blaine Finch Honored:
 
Our own Representative to the Kansas House and also the Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch was honored this week with the League of Kansas Municipalities Intergovernmental Award for his work in the speedy passage of SB 88. Most of us haven’t forgotten the winter blast our area received last February…some of the lowest temps on record! Many Cities have been surprised with a utility bill which arrived in August this summer…the City of Ottawa’s bill is over $1 million. Most cities don’t have this kind of money just lying around…and our own City’s bill was less than many because of our ability to generate some of our power needed. Senate Bill 88 allowed for a city utility low-interest loan program to help municipalities pay the bill. While the City borrows money to pay the bill, they pass the cost on to consumers which now, also get the benefit of a smaller bill and smaller bites. The bill passed the Legislature and was signed into law March 3, days after persistent cold weather that threatened the finances of municipal utilities stung by natural gas prices which rose as much as 200 times normal rates as the nation ran low on natural gas and distribution was a major cost-driver. The bill opened a low-interest loan fund that made it possible for local governmental purchasers of gas to pay their bills and continue to receive the necessary fuel for their customers. Locally, we are not surprised at our Representative’s prowess or innovation…he has served us well in many capacities over the years. However, it’s always nice when others take notice…this is actually Blaine’s second time to be honored with this same award…in 2015 the League honored him for his work on the passage of home rule unilateral annexation legislation. Thanks Blaine for all your work on both the local and state level!!
 
COVID Update:
 
Here is this week’s update…people are still becoming ill with the disease but the spread has slowed greatly. If vaccinated, people are not getting very sick. Our local positivity rate has dropped to 5.1 percent…best since last June. This week, the FDA approved both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for the booster shot…it still needs approval from CDC but booster shots for everyone are close now. Also, kids 5-11 should have the approval very soon to receive the vaccination…this will be a big game-changer. You can still receive a free vaccination by calling your pharmacist or County Health Department (785.229.3531).
 
Homecoming Week for Ottawa University:
 
Once again there will be a big influx of people to our community for the weekend…OU celebrates Homecoming, an event skipped last year. In lieu of missing last year, the 50-year classes of 1970 & 1971 will be honored. On Thursday morning this week, we had a Chamber Coffee to help kickoff homecoming events and also to “officially” welcome Dr. Bill Tsutsui to our community (pictures here). Bill has been here and working since July and proving to have a very high energy level…he and Reggies are evolving into a fantastic team…in Surprise, Arizona, Reggies’ counterpart is Dennis Tyner – we all know and remember Dennis from his 10-years in Ottawa. Our own University is becoming a story nationwide for showing growth when most are shrinking and doing it in innovative ways. Lead on Bill with your great team…the community gets to come along for the ride.
 
I myself will be in the OU Board meeting all day today…and hope to participate in Dr. Tsutsui’s inauguration on Saturday morning. The public is invited…it will be on the campus (seating begins at 10:00 a.m. the ceremony at 10:30) – hope maybe you can attend and see the campus. It is all spruced up for company and with the fall colors beginning to show, is really beautiful. 
 
Quiet Weekend:
 
I think (hope!) Cherry and I are going to have a quiet weekend…no home KSU game. Maybe we can get flower gardens cleaned for the fall. Last weekend, the KSU game was home when we hosted Iowa State…I think most realize Cherry is from Iowa and also an ISU grad. So…we enjoyed hosting several from her family here and at our tailgate (pictures here). It was a beautiful game day…admittedly it took on a sour note when my Wildcats lost – but the company enjoyed it!!
 
Enjoy the fall…winter will be here soon enough! Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000