Pinnacol grant helps rally rural northeast Colorado

Following the Civil War, the town of Julesburg in northeast Colorado was home to horse thieves, gamblers and con artists attracted by an abundance of saloons, dance halls and travelers heading west along the Overland Trail. Host to both the Pony Express and Union Pacific Railroad, Julesburg experienced no shortage of folks.

Today, however, this town and the county of Sedgwick suffer from a phenomenon known as "rural out-migration."

"Residents are leaving for jobs in larger markets," said Pinnacol Assurance Corporate Citizenship Programs Administrator Chris Sautter. "But Sedgwick County Economic Development Corporation (SCED) is facilitating some exciting ways to connect young people with local, meaningful careers and growing the next generation’s workforce, and this caught our eye."

Funding supports workforce development by Sedgwick County Economic Development

Pinnacol awarded SCED a one-year, $10,000 grant that helped fund programs in 2016 that paired local students with area companies and civic leaders. The programs fill a pipeline with workforce talent that can sustain and even expand the business community.

"Pinnacol's grants program centers on three pillars," said Sautter. "The first pillar, economic vitality and workforce development, is deeply rooted in Pinnacol’s desire to help ensure the success of our policyholders and all of Colorado. The two other pillars are rehabilitative health services and safety, wellness and prevention services. SCED's important work aligns with the first pillar and Pinnacol's commitment to support the entire state of Colorado. Each community’s workforce development needs are unique, and our investment supports Sedgwick County’s holistic approach to the challenges rural communities face. We value the strong emphasis they’re placing on developing their local talent pipeline.”

Leading SCED's efforts is Executive Director Mike Sullivan. With the help of just one part-time employee, Sullivan moves at a dizzying speed and spoke with Pinnacol for this story while on the road from a high school program.

"Yesterday, we introduced 220 high school students to 3D printing, virtual reality headsets and other technologies," said Sullivan. "These hands-on activities opened them to thinking outside the box and discussing specific ways to improve their community. We told them about our Student Career Opportunity Initiative. We shared opportunities from area employers for job shadowing, internships and college apprenticeships that offer fulfilling careers here in northeast Colorado."

With the support of Pinnacol's grant, Sullivan and SCED in 2016 nurtured northeast Colorado's workforce through the following achievements:

  • Conducted a community needs assessment, interviewing 12 Sedgwick County businesses to identify career opportunities and partnering with Revere Junior/Senior High School in Ovid, CO, and Julesburg High School in Julesburg, CO, to identify student skills
  • Placed 21 Revere and Julesburg students in career exploration apprenticeships with Sedgwick County businesses
  • Facilitated both technology and entrepreneurial camps for junior high students to create awareness and excitement around new career opportunities in the region

Sullivan's enthusiasm motivates students, employers

Sullivan's enthusiasm is contagious, and it's a big reason why students, business owners and civic leaders step up. He's pairing a CSU student who's learning engineering software with a manufacturer that uses the software to build trailers. He's matching budding mechanics with a machine shop that also wants Sullivan's help finding younger people to buy the company in a couple of years.

"Think about that!" beamed Sullivan. "Young, skilled people building businesses, starting families and cultivating community."

Sullivan's enthusiasm stems from his years as a high school teacher. He loved seeing kids develop, and workforce development as the head of SCED seemed the ideal next step in his own career.

"I love to see young people find their way in the world," said Sullivan, "and I'm grateful to Pinnacol for helping SCED match these kids with opportunities here in Sedgwick County and northeast Colorado."