An effort to promote jobs and education is under way in south-central Missouri.

A south central Missouri group received $50,000 for a project to bring jobs back, attract new business and motivate a hopeful workforce to seek higher education in preparation for employment.

The Southern Ozarks Alliance for Rural Development (SOAR) will be the lead organization to accomplish the grant’s objectives. The USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service awarded the grant for the economic and technology networking feasibility project.

The grant was applied for through SOAR’s affiliate the Willow Springs Community Foundation (WSCF) because SOAR had not yet finalized its incorporation status.

“We’re moving fast for a newly organized group,” said SOAR President Mary Sheid. “The opportunity to apply for the grant became available and we had a small window of opportunity to submit the application. We’re grateful our regional needs were recognized and merited the award.”

Wendell Bailey of Willow Springs has provided $20,000 additional matching funds for the two-year project.

The project, called MOVE Forward, targets manufacturing, tourism and more stable and profitable agriculture that must be brought back to the Ozarks. It also will focus on new technology businesses and service industries that need to be attracted to the Ozarks.

Economic development will be accomplished through a combination of feasibility studies followed by collaborative strategic planning and the organization of a region wide integrated technology network. Existing resources will be determined, employment training and education needs assessed, potential environmentally sound products and services identified for development and economic, regulatory and legislative hurdles identified with recommendations for changes to promote economic growth.

The proposed 10 county/31 community network will be used to synergize economic development by establishing a local employment network. This network will advocate for education and advanced training that would best serve local businesses, matching potential employees with educational opportunities, scholarships, grants or with viable employers. The network advocates will also encourage youth to seek higher education via aptitude, interest and employment counseling, and promote training via shadowing and/or mentoring opportunities with local professionals.

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