Chamber Corner

Education at the forefront in WNY


President and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce & Executive Director of the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier

Education is directly related to workforce development, and President Barack Obama’s Western New York stop this past week points to crucial needs around making higher education more affordable for middle class families. While the rare presidential visit in our region created a certain amount of hype, it was the content of his address that is most meaningful for students, families, colleges and ultimately the local business community. The crux of the message surrounds making higher education more affordable, especially for middle class Americans, and it centers on ratings and responsibility for colleges, students and the government.

Obama’s remarks focused on creation of a new ratings system that would provide more transparent information about costs and outcomes so that families can make decisions about colleges based on both affordability and their ability to meet students’ academic needs. The scorecard would include information about graduation rates, loan default rates, amount borrowed and employment. In addition, students would be required to complete course work in order to maintain federal aid, and the administration’s Pay as You Earn program would be expanded to allow more students to take advantage of the option to cap student loan repayment at 10 percent of monthly income.

The Chamber/MAST is already involved in educational initiatives in Chautauqua County. For several years we have operated the Dream It Do It initiative, focused on encouraging high school students to consider careers in manufacturing, many of which do require some level of higher education, whether it is specialized training, a certificate, associate’s or bachelor’s degree. This year, we were instrumental in putting together the new STEM Education Coalition in Chautauqua County which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math educational opportunities to help create an even sharper focus on education targeted at high-tech careers including manufacturing, healthcare and more.

Affordability is a critical component of any higher education plan. If students don’t plan carefully or come from a family that has significant resources, the cost of getting a degree or certificate can easily result in substantial loan debt. The president acknowledged that college loan debt already creates a substantial drag on our entire economy. Just as young people are beginning their careers, they may not be able to purchase a home or start a family of their own.

We stand ready to work with anyone or any organization that is ready to focus on holding down the costs of higher education, and we thank the president for choosing our part of New York state to launch these priorities nationally.

Health insurance questions? Call the Chamber

If you have questions regarding health insurance, the Chamber of Commerce is a resource that can help you. There are many changes occurring within the health insurance market that will have an impact on small businesses, sole proprietors and individuals. The Chamber is ready to help you understand how these changes specifically impact you. With decades of experience providing health insurance and following the trends and changes with health insurance plans, the Chamber should be your first choice to navigate through to the appropriate insurance product to meet your needs.

The Chamber has been closely tracking the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of health care reform in New York state since the passage of the law. By keeping in close contact with state departments and chambers of commerce across New York state the Chamber has developed extensive knowledge regarding how the changes will impact you.

The Chamber has been and remains on the cutting edge of health insurance. The introduction of the Bright Choices, A Private Benefits Exchange four years ago established the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce as one of the early adopters and implementers of a private insurance exchange. The program has provided businesses and their employees in Chautauqua County access to benefits that only Fortune 500 companies could access prior to the rollout of the exchange. In addition the consumer centric Bright Choices program has provided participants with analytical tools to help with decision making, access to innovative health insurance products and cost savings.

For more information regarding health insurance call the Chamber of Commerce at 716-366-6200 or 716-484-1101.

Chamber Awards Banquet Oct. 17

The Annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet will be held once again this year at the Williams Center at SUNY Fredonia. Reconstructed last year, the Williams Center is a beautiful, multi-use facility at the heart of the Fredonia campus.

The Awards Banquet is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 17. It will pay tribute to not only the Chamber’s Economic Development Award winner and Person of the Year, but also to the Community Service Award winners chosen by each of the six Community Chambers in Chautauqua County: Dunkirk, Fredonia, Hanover, Jamestown, Mayville-Chautauqua and Westfield-Barcelona.

All of the award winners will be announced shortly, and invitations will be mailed to all Chamber members in the weeks ahead. For now, put this event on your calendar. It is the largest, single business event in Chautauqua County each year, bringing together some 400 business people in once place. We hope to see you there.