By John Casper, President/CEO
At its meeting March 23, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support the Fox Valley Technical College referendum that will appear on ballots April 3.
FVTC is asking voters in its district to consider a $66.5 million referendum to improve its facilities and advance many of its educational programs. A complete synopsis of the proposed projects can be found at www.fvtc.edu/facilitiesplan.
During the board’s discussion of the issue, several board members made valid points as to why passage of the referendum is necessary.
Although a majority of the referendum dollars is going to the Appleton campus, board members brought home the point that we as voters need to support a regional approach to economic growth and education. We as a Chamber and as Oshkosh’s lead economic development organization understand well the importance of regionalism. Our cities may have defined borders but our economy does not. What is good for one city in Northeast Wisconsin is good for all. In addition, as FVTC President Susan May has stated, it would be irresponsible to taxpayers for the college to duplicate programs. The college has a long history of having students in Appleton travel to Oshkosh for some programs and vice versa.
Secondly, there is a great amount of discussion going on these days among business leaders and chambers of commerce regarding workforce shortages. Called the Workforce Paradox, we are now doing business in a time when our unemployment rate is higher than recent history, yet businesses are scrambling to find skilled and qualified workers. Local studies done recently show that a skilled labor shortage will become even more prevalent, specifically in manufacturing and health care, as a large wave of employees retire in the next 15 years. Some of the gaps will need to be filled with those who have earned a 4-year degree. However, filling future gaps will depend more upon those who learn a specific trade or skill at a two-year technical college. FVTC reports that it’s experienced 30 percent growth in enrollment, and if predictions and studies hold true, the college’s growth will continue for many years to come.
It is never easy to ask voters to go to the polls and agree to a property tax hike. That is why FVTC has asked voters to do so only three times in its history. But, we have to keep in mind that this is the right thing to do in this critical time of current and future workforce shortages. This will be a vote to remain progressive and be a leader in education and in business.