People had a chance to hear about the state of the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening during the Chamber’s annual meeting.

The State of the Chamber address was conducted by Chamber Board Chair Mark Powers, Chamber Director of Member Relations Amy Garner, Military Affairs Council Director Craig Bender, and Economic Development Commission Director Mickey Fornaro-Dean.

Bender updated attendees on what the MAC has scheduled for returning soldiers. He also talked about services provided to soldiers during the year. This included help offered to soldiers transitioning out of the military via a lunch and learn event for owners of area businesses on the skills former soldiers might possess.

According to Bender, oftentimes businesses don’t realize the full extent of what people are able to do within the Army.

“It’s not just people who go out there and shoot guns,” he said. “We have HR people, we have IT people — we have pretty much the entire gamut in the military. So just letting businesses know what those skills and talents are, so they’re willing to hire transitioning service members as well as their spouses.”

Bender said there’s a 40 percent unemployment rate among military spouses.

“It’s an uptapped resource that we need to use as best we can for our community,” he said of military spouses.

Bender stressed the value of keeping soldiers and spouses here as they transition and drawing those back by making their experience of Junction City a positive one.

The MAC partnered, this year, with City Commissioner Phyllis Fitzgerald and the MRC of Manhattan to take pizza to troops doing warfighter exercises, this year.

“Just (to) kind of brighten their spirits,” Bender said. “It kind of went a long way. Seemed like they appreciated it.”

Fornaro-Dean talked about the AUSA Convention, which she and many other officials from Junction City and Geary County recently attended. The EDC held a reception at the event. More than 200 businesses were invited to the reception.

About 650 companies attended the event, many of which do direct business with the Army, she said.

The EDC will kick off its brand new webpage soon, she said.

“We have also hired in partnership with Golden Shovel, the GIS Planning Group and Zoom Prospector,” she said. “What they can offer us are amazing data opportunities for those who we work with consistently, which are site selectors.”

The new site will have maps to measure populations “in miles or minutes away from a specific property,” Fornaro-Dean said.

There will be heat maps and maps detailing labor force, graduation rates for universities in the area, and talent pools, among other things. The maps will be interactive, allowing users to layer them to find out what they need to know.

According to Fornaro-Dean, almost all businesses and site selectors utilize internet in making their decisions on where to place their companies. Some non-consultants looking for a site for a company work on site selection after hours and on weekends, she said.

“Speed of the deal comes from informed buyers,” she said. “People that do real estate searches on the internet take less time to buy and look at fewer properties before making a decision.”

According to Garner, the Chamber has multiple programs and committees it has worked on and put together, including the Greater Than Leadership program and the Young Professionals of Junction City, which the Chamber is trying to revitalize.

The Chamber has changed its structure for members over the last year, as well, she said.

“We switched from a fair-share-based structure to a tiered dues structure,” she said. “That means as a member, you can choose the benefits that you want and pay based on what you want to receive out of the Chamber.”

She went over what the Chamber offers its members.

“We’re looking for the community to be involved,” she said. “The more we can get businesses to be a part of what we’re doing and the business owners and employees to come to events and be involved in what’s happening, the more your voice shows. And that’s really what a Chamber is. It’s the voice of the business community.”

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