- Ada, Oklahoma

December 12, 2013

Housing identified as top concern by community leaders

Art Lawler Staff Writer

Ada — Ada’s business, industry and education leaders discussed community needs and possible solutions at a 12 By 12 Luncheon at the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce office Tuesday.

The discussion brought in about 20 community leaders from business and education.

One concern that was discussed is the apparent lack of housing to accommodate people who are considering moving to town or who have temporary work assignments in the community.

“I think we have professional people who are new who want to find short-term housing until they can transition to purchase a home, or a long-term rental,” said Chamber Vice President Sarah Johnson.

“It’s difficult for professionals to find a new home to buy right after they get here,” Johnson said.

Workers who are hired to help complete short-term assignments and need short-term leases on rental properties sometimes have difficulties finding such housing.

Those in attendance said they would like to see more flexibility on rental leases, most of which are now six-month leases.  

One suggestion was to find rental property that could be fixed up and reserved for workers hired to do those jobs.

Other areas of concern was the Oklahoma educational system, which they said was not meeting some of the business and industry needs in the community.

Educators said there was a need for building a pipeline of 6th, 7th and 8th grade teachers to fill vacancies as they occur.

Recent vacancies have been filled only after administrators went to job fairs after quality applications ran low.

Some community leaders want to see more of a focus on providing alternatives for students who will not be attending college after high school.

They believe students who are in the bottom 20 percent of their classes are dropping out rather than failing one more test.

They said they need young workers who can stay off drugs and learn appropriate behavior in the workplace.

They want the state to provide some type of education that can utilize talents and skills of all types of students. They say schools, not particularly Ada, but all schools, are spending too much time and financial resources “teaching to the test.”

Art Chapman with Chaprell Dodge said some kids do very well on the test but are clueless of how to do some of jobs local industry requires.

“It’s not what Ada wants to deliver, so much as what it they are required to do by the state,” said Johnson.  

Ada’s labor force needs both highly skilled workers and those with skills to handle other jobs. Vocational-technical training is good but not the answer for all students who won’t be attending colleges and trade schools.

Todd Kennemer, the new community development director for the city, has been taking on some of these problems.

“Workforce housing is part of the city’s comprehensive plan,” he told the group.

“Todd is coming in from outside and bringing a new perspective to the city,” Johnson said. “Those new ideas could work well there.”

One possibility is working out a plan that could have construction workers and business owners working with the same inspector, instead of with several inspectors, a process that sometimes results in confusion and extra building costs.

Kennemer will be involved in that and a lot of other plans the city hopes to enact.

He’s asking questions like “how much housing do we need? I’m new here. It’s your city. What do you want?” he asked the group.  

As to rental property, most seemed to agree there is good rental property, but what there is of it has already been taken.

There is a desire to see landlords become more flexible in their rentals. Most leases are for six months, but some only need to be here for three or four months.

The city is also getting bids to have a new housing study done.

There was a difference of opinion on young workers in how they should present themselves at job interviews in the community.

One complained about inappropriate dress with kids showing up for job interviews in blue jeans and then having no idea how to conduct themselves during that interview.

Others said blue jeans were the least of their concerns. They wanted young people who could focus and pass a drug test.

“The culture has changed,” Johnson said. “We might need to adapt more as times change. On the other hand, there is that element of respect that we definitely need to communicate with our graduating students, or our career tech or college students. They should dress for the kind of job they want.”

As an example of balance, Johnson said she likes is the Career Discovery Day Initiative that was put forward by State Sen. Susan Paddack.

For the third year now, volunteers will take students out of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades, so they can experience the workforce. The hope is to  that reach out stimulate ideas and interests in how their future could look,

The process is repeated annually. The next such Career Day is set for Jan. 22.

All eighth graders will go to the school of business at ECU and meet with three top professionals. Among other things, they will learn interviewing skills.

Keith Buelow at the Holrim Cement plant said a lot of labor problems and employee instability can be eliminated by good paying jobs.

Finding the right people to do those jobs isn’t always easy, he admitted, but he insisted employees who work for a reasonable wage tend to be more loyal and efficient over time.

Buelow said he looks for young people who grew up on a farm or in some area where they were working with their hands and making pieces of equipment work properly.

“If they have the aptitude for this kind of work and they’re willing to work hard, I can teach them what they need to do,” he said.

Young people can start out at about $16 an hour for six months while being trained at the plant to draw $21 an hour after they’ve proven themselves.

The old shop classes of the past have mostly gone by the wayside because they weren’t considered pertinent in today’s market. Kennemer said the thinking was that those classes merely taught students hobbies for later in life.

He said there might be a way to modify those to meet needs of some students as well as businesses.

Others in attendance Tuesday included Oklahoma State Rep., Todd Thompsen, Chris Feiler with Citizens Bank, Delisa Floyd, Brandon Bolin, True Steel, Jenny Cypert and Stacey Gohlightly at Pontotoc Technology Center, Kerry Manning with Workforce Oklahoma, Kay Edwards at Ram Jack, Rick Schmidt at Flex-’n’ Gate, Art Chapman at Chaprell Dodge, Jessica Boles with East Central University, Ashley Epperson with IRT, Todd Essary with Mercy Hospital Ada, Kate Elliott with Chickasaw Nation and Ada Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President, Sarah Johnson.