Like most of us, I’ve been waiting to see a visible impact from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka federal stimulus program). With one of the goals being a focus on creating jobs, it was frustrating to see very little job creation activity so far as a result of the stimulus funding. That however may be changing and local businesses will have the opportunity to not only benefit from the program, but also provide valuable work experience to local teenagers and young adults in the process.
This past week, the office of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced the Next Generation Jobs Team, a new program to provide internship opportunities for Missouri residents between 16 and 24. The program allows local companies in green energy, technology, health care, business operations, construction and life sciences to hire interns with the cost being paid with stimulus funds. The goal is to provide new skills and real-world experiences for those who will be our workforce of the near future. The interns are paid $8 per hour, and businesses get the opportunity to screen and select potential applicants.

Independence alone has more than 15,000 eligible participants who fall within the age range of the program, and this demographic represents our workforce of the future for our community. More than half of our local businesses can qualify to use the program. It can be a win-win, and as a business owner, you have the chance to help enhance the skills of our future workforce by sharing your expertise and real-life business experiences that will give these interns a jump-start on their future. If only 10 percent of the eligible participants in Independence take part and work for 90 days, the economic impact of the program would result in $5.7 million dollars flowing into our local economy. Considering the spin-off of those dollars, the benefit will go far beyond just employment experience; it will be an economic shot in the arm.

The program will run from May 1 to Sept. 30, and interested persons between the ages of 16 and 24 as well as businesses can register to participate at or by calling (800) 592-6020.  If you would like assistance in submitting an application for the program, please call the Independence Council for Economic Development at (816) 252-5777.

Tom Lesnak is president of the Independence Council for Economic Development.