By Susan Redden
GALENA, Kan. —
More than 60 volunteers on Wednesday accepted chores designed to boost the vitality of a seven-county region in areas including education, economic development and community improvements.
At a gathering at the Galena High School Performing Arts Center, residents from throughout the region heard a review of work completed thus far in the Joplin Regional Prosperity Initiative and divided into work groups to tackle aspects of the effort.
Work on the initiative started in late 2011, and has included studies by focus groups, online surveys and a professional analysis to develop regional strategies for making the area a better place to live and raise a family, to grow existing business and to attract new ones.
“We’ve progressed to the point we’re ready to make these strategies a reality,” said Clifford Wert, chairman of the initiative governing board.
The group also has hired a staff member, Mark Turnbull, who will serve as director of strategies.
He said first-year activities will include developing a regional job clearinghouse, putting together business retention and expansion programs, developing a regional health and wellness coalition, and forming a regional council of elected officials to focus on solutions to shared problems.
The initiative involves Jasper, Newton and Barton counties in Missouri, Labette, Crawford and Cherokee counties in Kansas, and Ottawa County, Okla. The effort aims to build on existing successes and to involve chambers of commerce, schools, colleges and universities, government organizations and other groups in improvements that will benefit the entire region.
“We’ve talked to a lot of organizations, but we’re continuing to reach out,” Wert said.
Volunteers at the Wednesday session divided into four work groups to tackle elements of the initiative. Topics included education and work force development, promoting the growth of new and existing businesses, infrastructure, amenities and wellness, and promotion of programs that recognize and celebrate what the region has to offer.
Turnbull said the committees will set their own agendas and schedules, and report back to the governing board.
About 110 people have signed up to be involved in the initiative, and discussions Wednesday suggested that more will be recruited.
THE REGIONAL INITIATIVE is based at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. It involves individuals, chambers of commerce, city and county governments, and economic development groups from throughout a seven-county region.