Kinexus board meets at SMC
Kinexus’ tri-county board of directors met at Southwestern Michigan College Friday morning.
Rebranding the Benton Harbor non-profit earlier this year reflects its evolution into “change agents” creating solutions for business, workforce and community challenges to promote economic vitality across Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties.
Michigan Works remains a sub-brand of Kinexus, which became the parent company and an umbrella over three divisions — business development, workforce development and community development.
Its services portfolio includes the Small Business Technology and Development Center, the Bridge Academy at 777 Riverview Drive, JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) and a host of industry-sector initiatives.
Region jobless rates are 8.9 percent in Berrien, 8.8 percent in Van Buren and 8.2 percent in Cass of a workforce of more than 100,000.
Kinexus invests $10 million to $13 million each year through diverse services and special initiatives. Its financial report shows $11,727,118 available as of July —6-percent more than 2012-2013.
Michigan Works trains workforce talent and develops job seekers to meet employers’ needs.
In ramping up to Kinexus, the organization expanded services and diversified funding streams to better meet community needs and create solutions for challenges that prevent the region from thriving.
The new organization addresses regional economic challenges on three fronts — business, workforce and community development.
Executive Director Todd Gustafson said the Michigan Works brand was outgrown while expanding focus beyond workforce development.
Kinexus — pronounced “connects us” — combines the word kinetic, meaning movement; and nexus, or hub.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our community and connect resources, businesses and people to promote economic growth,” Gustafson said.
Members include Cass County Commissioners Bob Wagel and Bob Ziliak, Berrien County Commissioners Jeanette Leahey and Mamie Yarbrough, Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network Executive Director Kathy Emans and SMC Board of Trustees Chairman Dr. Fred L. Mathews.
Wagel announced that John Ryder, chief operating officer of Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital, would join the board at its next meeting.
“There’s a lot of waste in the system, and one way to save money is to consolidate 36 different workforce funding programs,” Gustafson said. “The House version consolidated some, the Senate version did not, so we’ll see what happens when they come to conference. The first piece is the governor finalizing the Michigan map. In our region, the official map supposed to come out in July is expected in the coming week. Our region looks like we thought it would,” aligning Berrien, Cass and Van Buren with Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Calhoun and Branch counties.
“I’m a real critic of the idea bigger is better,” Mathews said. “This is the first tri-county organization we’ve had where Cass County is treated as a real partner. The more counties we end up with, the less chance that smaller counties are going to have influence. We should think long and hard before adding to it.”
“They believe our non-profit model is one of the better ones,” Gustafson said. “I don’t think we’ll be forced to do something we don’t want to do. We’re not going to be outside, looking in, on the change. This has dominated conversation everywhere I go.”
Gustafson said 333 people placed in July represent $6.7 million in wages.
There were two business starts and one expansion last month.
Gustafson said there are 2,000 people “walking around in the three counties who could, if they wanted, get a free education. If you worked at a company which laid you off due to overseas trade competition, you are eligible. There’s $17 million in Michigan going unused.”
Sweeping up salt
seen saving big bucks
The board heard about 36 Kinexus Summer Youth Work Experience participants ages 16-24 who used vacuum cleaners to retrieve salt for a Michigan Department of Transportation study on an incomplete stretch of U.S. 31 at Napier Avenue in Berrien County.
MDOT drove trucks at various speeds dropping road salt, which students collected and weighed to gauge how much was deposited on various sections, which could ultimately translate into millions of dollars savings on MDOT’s $33 million expenditure — perhaps $3.6 million in this nine-county region.
A previous study concluded 25 mph to be the optimum speed, with 35 mph the recommended top speed.
This year examined different distributions, such as spinning salt backwards at the same rate the truck moves to achieve “zero velocity.”
It’s like spreading salt if the truck stood still.