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Farewell to KzooConnect

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Sheri Welsh - Farewell

Eight years ago, community leaders and corporate executives gathered for the 108th annual meeting of the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce. The topic? Education and Talent. Their message was simple: we need a well-educated workforce in this region if we want to see economic prosperity for all. Sound a bit familiar?

It’s a message we’ve been preaching for years in Kalamazoo, with varying themes. Sometimes we focus on internships, other times it’s apprenticeships. Many times, it’s The Kalamazoo Promise. But I had a different idea.

Talent is my business. I began studying the impending “War for Talent” in 2009 when many believed that unemployment would NEVER go below 5 or 6 percent. I wondered: if the experts were right in what they predicted, how could Kalamazoo compete against major cities on a national or global level? Do we have a strategic, competitive advantage that we could leverage?

The answer was clear to me: It was the Kalamazoo Promise and Western Michigan University (WMU).

We let hundreds, maybe thousands of bright individuals fade away from our community every year. Of course, we can’t employ EVERY WMU graduate in Kalamazoo, but what if we could employ MORE of them? What if those bright Kalamazoo Promise alum didn’t head for places like Detroit or Atlanta after graduating from MSU and other colleges and universities, but instead came right back to Kalamazoo? And for those that needed to leave, how could we stay connected to them or reconnect to them, reminding them that we want them to come home?

I believed that if we could find a way to stay in front of them, to “market” the community to them, they would consider coming home again - and when they did, we’d have jobs waiting for them.

The idea was born on a cocktail napkin - literally - on the porch at Burdick’s on a beautiful, unseasonably warm September evening with Heather Isch of LKF Marketing. (Thank goodness for really smart people who can take your wild concepts and turn them into reality!) That’s what Heather and her team did - and KzooConnect was born.

It launched with The Kalamazoo Promise as a partner, the organization that gets so many of our youth through college. They were just beginning to explore how to get them back home. We began to talk about ways to get the blog in front of Promise scholars, with content that mattered to them, featured their alumni and reminded them that there’s no place like home.

Today KzooConnect is a well-recognized, well-followed blog that continues to sound the drum beat for all things good in Kalamazoo. Mission accomplished. Now the KzooConnect team and I are delighted to pass the blog to our friends at The Kalamazoo Promise, where it fits so well with their new initiatives designed to anchor Promise Scholars here at home.

We are so excited to see what’s in store for KzooConnect! And we’re honored to have played a small part in helping impact talent attraction and retention in Kalamazoo. Because it was the right thing to do.

Sometimes, when you have an idea, you just need to run with it.

So, what’s your idea? What are you waiting for?

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