KAL-TEC enrollments increasing weekly

KALKASKA – It's no secret that something had to give to boost the economy in Kalkaska, where the unemployment rate is the highest in northwest Michigan and the workforce ranks among the lowest statewide with respect to employees having advanced educations.

"There's an incredible need here," said Tony Miller, chairman of the Kalkaska Economic Development Corp.

The good news-news that's got community leaders like Miller, business owners and workers so excited-is that that need is being met, thanks to a new program offering hands-on training, technical updates, educational courses, business introductions and skill development. Best of all, KAL-TEC, funded by Michigan Regional Skills Alliance, Northwest Michigan Council of Governments and Rotary Charities, is locally-based.

"They said, 'We're coming to Kalkaska to do this, we're not asking Kalkaska people to come to Traverse City to be educated,' which is incredibly significant," Miller said. "When you consider the unemployment and cost of gas, a lot of these people from a time and economic standpoint really can't be going to Traverse City."

"What we're looking to do is increase the employability of the people of Kalkaska," Miller said. "If we can get more middle class incomes, it's going to do nothing but benefit the individuals and the community."

The city is embracing the program, which launched this spring and is attracting a growing number of participants. Enrollments are increasing weekly, with about 150 students registering since the program's kick-off in April.

Classes are provided by Northwestern Michigan College, Northwest Human Services Agency, ChildCare Connections, MSU Extension, Northwest Michigan WORKS! and Community Services Network of Michigan.

"It has been a great experience teaching in Kalkaska," said Chris Wendel, instructor for 'How to Start a Business in Northern Michigan.' "The students are appreciative and it's clear they are committed to making their community more successful."

One goal of KAL-TEC is to assist employers in obtaining low-cost, convenient training for their staff. The program provides a special employer scholarship of 50 percent reimbursement to businesses that send their employees to KAL-TEC courses.

Dr. Troy Stobert jumped at the opportunity to provide local training for his dental practice employees.

"If the staff had to go to Traverse City, I don't know how excited or eager they would have been," said Stobert, whose employees enrolled in computer-related training as well as personal-growth courses. "We're just very glad it's here. It's great the way they've organized it and I do believe it's going to grow. I hope more people take advantage of it."

Rotary Charities is thrilled to see the program's success so far, said Executive Director Marsha Smith. The Traverse City-based organization, which services the five-county region, gave $50,000 to the program for its first year and could give an additional $100,000 over the next two years.

"We really want to focus on programs that have the potential for long-term impact and this is a really long-term impact thing," Smith said. "We're also interested in strong partnerships and new ways of delivering services and KAL-TEC met all of those goals."

Information, course offerings and registration forms are available online at www.KAL-TEC.org and at the Michigan WORKS! Office, 103 Third Street in downtown Kalkaska. Participation is open to all area adults. Scholarships, discounts and financial assistance are available. BN