The Columbus Area Chamber will connect to a series of big topics next week.

On Monday, I will be on a panel at a conference in Kearney discussing the importance of early childhood education. Our Chamber has been involved in various initiatives over the years to bring quality education to our region’s youngest residents. The research is very clear about the impact of early childhood education.

Professor James Heckman with the University of Chicago has done a lot of that research and his “bottom line” is this: investments in early childhood education show a 7-10 percent per-year return in increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs to healthcare, criminal justice and remedial education.

The Thriving Children’s Conference will bring together more than 200 people from 60 communities across Nebraska. I’m happy to be a part of the day, sharing our experiences in Columbus with that statewide group so we can all improve the future for Nebraska’s kids.

Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. is the annual State Chamber Legislative Forum in Columbus, as I mentioned in this column last week. This year’s forum will be of particular interest on a couple fronts. We’ll hear from our candidates for the District 22 seat in the Unicameral and we’ll hear about “Blueprint Nebraska.” The Forum is open to all members and I hope we’ll have a great crowd to get connected to these important state-level conversations.

Wednesday, Sept. 19, is the annual Ag Partners Tour. The tour is organized by the Chamber Agribusiness Committee each year to connect community leaders to the state’s No. 1 industry. This year’s tour will visit a robotic dairy, the new Pillen Family Farms feed mill in Albion and tour Lindsay Manufacturing.

That’s a nice cross-section of value-added agriculture in our region. The committee invites State Senators and community leaders from our area on the tour and we usually have a really good group attend. The tour is open to all Chamber members until we fill the bus, so give us a call at the office if you’d like to know more.

Thursday morning next week, our business-education “Big Idea” group meets to continue moving forward on two big ideas they’re pursuing. They are investigating how to offer a financial incentive for education to anyone who needs it and how to build some really unique project-based learning partnerships between local schools and businesses.

This group has engaged local businesses with all three Columbus school districts plus Twin River Schools and CCC-Columbus. They’ve had really exciting discussions in their first two meetings and they hope to create action plans on these two ideas from the meeting next week. Either or both of those ideas would be game changers for our students and our businesses! The Chamber is pleased to be the catalyst to make those discussions happen.

Finally, on Friday of next week I’ll be speaking in North Platte at the annual conference for Nebraska’s Chambers. We’ll be talking about how to attract and retain talent in the Chamber profession, as we face that same challenge as most of our members. When you consider community development in Nebraska communities, the local Chamber is often the most important, or even the only, driver of that work. This is a critical topic for the future of those places in rural Nebraska!

That one week illustrates the breadth and the weight of the topics that we are tackling at the Columbus Area Chamber. We may not have all the answers but I’m confident we are at least asking the right questions to prepare our businesses and our community for the future.

K.C. Belitz is president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. 

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