Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
Happy Friday the 13th!! Even though a Friday which falls on the 13th day of the month has long been considered a harbinger of bad luck, no one really knows the origin of the superstition. Mind you, there are many theories…not many good ones. I’d venture the movie film industry has done the most to promote the myth…and also made the most profit from it. Suffice to say…just in case – don’t walk under any ladders today or let a black cat cross your path, or break any mirrors!! Just to be safe, I wouldn’t step on any sidewalk cracks either!!
 
I’m assuming all got the mothers/significant women in your life celebrated…and for those who are mothers, I hope you had a great day and felt honored! Here is a picture of me and my mom with two of my kids…and of Cherry with the kids. Taken after church, we all went for brunch following and followed with a relaxing afternoon. 
 
Political Season:
 
I think it is safe to say we are into the political season and the next election cycle. The Kansas Supreme Court still hasn’t ruled on the lawsuits filed by concerned citizens claiming extreme gerrymandering regarding the new congressional district lines which the state legislature approved…the candidate filing deadline is Wednesday, June 1. It keeps candidates for these particular positions in limbo. Still…two candidates were in Ottawa this week vying for a couple of different seats. Jake LaTurner, 2nd District Congressman (pictures here) who currently represents all of Franklin County…but stands to lose the north half if the redistricting proposed is sustained. He visited AdventHealth-Ottawa last Monday to tour our local hospital and hear directly our concerns surrounding the healthcare system. For my part, I feel he has done a good job in representing our needs locally…and he was duly impressed with our hospital facilities and all services we provide here in Ottawa. Certainly a hospital of Ottawa’s caliber is the exception compared to hospitals in most of his district…which is primarily Southeast Kansas.
 
Amanda Adkins (pictures here) was also in town Thursday this week, working to meet local voters and get to know our concerns and more about our Ottawa community. Currently running against the incumbent Sharice Davids, Congresswoman for the 3rd District, which is currently Johnson and Wyandotte Counties. If the proposed redistricting map stands, the new 3rd district will additionally incorporate the north half of Franklin County…at least for the next 10 years. This was my first time officially meeting Amanda…I was impressed. She and her campaign purchased lunch for 20 local voters and opened the floor to any and all questions. Additionally she queried us with questions about Ottawa and Franklin County. Locally the change will put us at a bit of a disadvantage…almost certain to be represented by an urban congressperson going forward. Still…her roots go back to agriculture, and she demonstrated genuinely interested in who and what we are. I’m yet to meet Congresswoman Davids…if the districts are changed, I’m sure I will and let you know about her too.
 
Lastly, our own Blaine Finch (pictures here) spoke to the Franklin County Development Board this week, giving a breakdown of the recently completed Kansas Legislative Session and what we can expect from the wrapup session in a couple of weeks. Albeit Blaine has not yet filed for reelection (so is not a candidate yet)…I for one certainly hope he does. Ottawa has not been represented in the Kansas House Leadership since the late 1800s. Most don’t realize what value it brings our community to have a local leader on the leadership team…and this aside, Blaine is a tremendous leader who has the ability to see the bigger picture. Truly a statesman…which benefits all of Kansas. Blaine felt the elimination of the state food sales tax and additional funding of KPERS were big accomplishments of this year’s lawmakers. 
 
Particularly challenging this year were all the federal COVID dollars in the Kansas coffers…complaining about too much money is something we rarely do. What needs to be factored in is, this money is one-time money…it needs to be spent on those “rainy-day projects” and things which will bolster the future and not necessarily require a continuous ongoing funding stream. Ottawa was able to access $5 million of these dollars to build a new water tower, gas lines and sewage lift station, all for Proximity Park…this is a great use of these funds and also very beneficial to us locally (a firsthand example of what having a local leader representing our concerns locally provides)!! Thanks for all you do Blaine to serve Kansas and Ottawa!!
 
KansasWorks District II Workforce:
 
Gina Coffman (pictures here) became the director of Heartland Works (Kansas District II Workforce) at the end of December and has hit the ground running. She was in Ottawa Tuesday speaking with Rotary members about the current challenges of finding enough labor to fill the workforce needs of the 2nd District. The 2nd District is made up mostly of Franklin, Douglas, Shawnee and Riley Counties. Her assignment is to learn what employers need in terms of numbers of employees and training to provide labor for their industry and develop the workforce to meet those needs…not necessarily an easy task. Our current unemployment in Franklin County is 2.7 percent…which equates to 403 workers. Deceptive in this number is it represents the number of people receiving unemployment benefits…not necessarily all the unemployed. Many have exhausted their benefits and still are without jobs; others are just plain leaving the workforce for a variety of reasons…including retirement and staying home with kids. Suffice to say…our labor force nationwide will look different in a post COVID world.
 
Following Gina’s speaking to Rotary, Paul Bean and I took her to see our new Career and Technical Education center at Ottawa High School and the simulated hospital at Neosho County Community College (pictures here). When you factor in that in addition to all these opportunities, we also have a 4-year Liberal Arts College in town, Gina had to admit the opportunities here in Franklin County are tremendous. We are set up to train and educate the next generation of workers…now we just need to grow them up!! I will add this…on Saturday another 400+ students from Franklin County will enter the adult world by graduating from our four area high schools. Congratulations and best of luck to them…we need you!!
 
Ottawa Herald/CherryRoad Media:
 
The new company which has purchased our local paper hosted Chamber members this morning (pictures here) in order to introduce themselves and also meet the community…the new owner, Jeremy Gulban, came from New Jersey to be in Ottawa. CherryRoad is a family-owned business and to date has purchased 64 Kansas newspapers in the United States…14 in Kansas communities that are comparable to Ottawa. In addition to newspapers, they also provide technology services such as webpage design and eCommerce solutions. They promise to continue to provide a printed paper, and are committed to returning to local news. They have reopened the local location on Hickory Street with regular hours (9:00-2:00 Monday-Thursday) and also have a new phone number (785.992.0001). The paper will continue to print with a Tuesday and Saturday circulation. We are fortunate to have this new group investing in Franklin County and willing to report our local news…I’ve renewed my subscription. Many have already noticed a big improvement in the local paper. We are learning we need an independent organization to report local news…otherwise we rely on gossip and social media. Thanks to CherryRoad and all the staff at The Herald…we appreciate you!! 
 
End of School Year:
 
I already mentioned graduation…next week most students will be officially released to summer. It’s been a while for me, but I still remember the great feeling of walking out of the school building on the last day to begin my summer freedom!! This week, we had a 4-year-old end-of-school preschool program…Jase Roger Flory made us proud (pictures here).
 
I know my wife is ready for a break from school too…teachers and administrators are faced with challenges as never before. Mostly with reporting requirements which continue to increase…this in addition to still teaching our children. Now included are the challenges the pandemic has left in its wake. Seemingly we are experiencing an evolution or shifting of our culture…which admittedly happens from time to time. It will eventually all work for good…but there are always pains with change and learning new adaptions and processes.
 
Glad the weekend is here…don’t forget to watch the AdventHealth 400 at the Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John 
 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000