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Bureau consultant says there is "a lot of will to make something happen"

 


A study of the Bureau of Reclamation’s problems in attracting qualified employees to the area is leading to broader avenues of local communication and could even result in the privatization of some federal land.

“In all the places I’ve worked in the United States, I’ve never seen this situation,” Jeffrey Simons, of Stantec, told the local Rotary club last Wednesday.

“Not only do you have four communities, but you have multiple counties and the tribes.”

Simons, who also spoke to the chamber of commerce’s Economic Development Committee the next morning, said the four towns’ officials, elected to pursue each town’s best interests, rightly focus on those.

But in a community of about 4,000 people, he said, “those kinds of efforts tend to take away from the critical mass, not add to it.”

All of the larger community’s employers have problems hiring people, and they all have said so. Simon stated he found “a remarkable level of consistency” among those employers and the dozen or more community leaders he interviewed.

A lack of available childcare is a big problem for all of them, and it’s one that working together they might solve, he said.

The bureau could create a childcare program, but federal rules require a minimum of 70 children to serve, more than its employees could bring. But if the hospital, the USBR and the school district worked together, “they can get to the numbers to make it all work,” he said.

Simon said a “joint concerns committee” has already met and had a “long and good discussion. There was really a recognition at that meeting that, alone, they are just that.”

He said the community could also use a joint effort on recruitment for those positions that need workers with highly specialized skills and expertise — an effort similar to one used by Coulee Medical Center, which shows potential medical professionals around town and introduces them to people and the area’s finer attributes.

“It’s the outdoor, clean, active lifestyle that makes [this] a welcoming place,” he noted. And a new school and new hospital may be well known to residents, but they’re not readily apparent to a casual visitor, for example.

Simon, who said Stantec is a company of 22,000 employees, based in Boston, Massachusetts, is a real estate developer who has been involved in the transfer of 15 to 20 federal properties to private ownership. He said it’s possible here, and they are studying what might be available for privatization, but none of this work has progressed up the bureau’s management structure beyond the local office yet.

Simon was impressed with the results of a local survey on the idea of consolidating local towns in which several hundred respondents said they were in favor of pursuing it.

“I haven’t seen many surveys that have that kind of … response rate,” he said, “and … such a huge weight on one side of a question.”

“With 4,000 people, the region is in a stronger position if there’s some unity … than working in kind of disparate efforts,” he said.

“There’s a lot of talent in this area,” Simon noted, “and there’s a lot of will to make something happen.”

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