COSBE seeks to engage members in education initiative

The Council of Small Business Executives is diving deeper into the classroom with the launch of a new campaign dubbed, “Will you be the spark?”

COSBE, an initiative of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, has activated the campaign through its education committee as it looks for more ways to connect its business members to K-12 students in the region.

COSBE’s education committee, which is currently comprised of about a dozen volunteer members, formed in 2010 – though the group’s investment in education goes back 20 years.

The committee and its new campaign reinforces the MMAC’s education and talent development agenda under its Blueprint for Economic Prosperity. The Blueprint’s mission is to build a region of skilled, adaptive and productive lifelong learners who fuel innovation.

“It’s one of the most critical aspects, I think, of the blueprint and of the vitality of the economy in the region and in the city,” said Waukesha Metal Products president and chief executive officer Jeff Clark, who is also chair of COSBE’s education committee. “We have to have talent development and give especially children the opportunities to reach their full potential in the economy and be full contributors to the economy.”

Clark

Among the new campaign’s top priorities is the establishment of the COSBE Education Fund, an ongoing funding pool the council will use to support organizations that align with the MMAC’s Blueprint goals.

The council aims to build a baseline of funding between $25,000 and $50,000. With a current pot of $7,500 assembled through pledges, COSBE is continuing fundraising internally as well as through the outside networks of its board members.

“We’re small businesses so we’ll never raise the money that some of the big players in town do, but we can raise a reasonable amount of funding that, when pointed in the right direction, can make a difference,” Clark said.

Steinbrecher

While the council accepts donations of any size, it is particularly interested in securing long-term commitments with five-year pledges.

With the cushion of a well-established fund, COSBE will be able to shift much of its focus from actively fundraising each year to reaching out to organizations and more easily backing them, said Mary Steinbrecher, executive director of COSBE.

“Moving forward, we would definitely like to have a balance in that fund to always be working with,” Steinbrecher said.

Outside the realm of funding, the “Will you be the spark?” campaign will draw more executives and employees directly into the classroom.

The campaign “spark” represents COSBE’s identification of programs it can positively impact with its members’ time and talent, Clark said. It also represents the power of businesses to expose students to viable career opportunities.

Among students COSBE will shape are those enrolled at GPS Education Partners, a Butler-based nonprofit that provides high school students an education alternative within manufacturing settings throughout the state.

Two years ago, COSBE adopted GPS Education Partners as a nonprofit partner to strengthen education in southeastern Wisconsin and prime the next generation workforce for careers in manufacturing.

During its partnership with GPS, COSBE has completed two successful $75,000 fundraising campaigns toward the opening of GPS’ first education center in Milwaukee County and its first in the City of Milwaukee. The nonprofit established a center at Lakeside Manufacturing in West Milwaukee in 2012, followed by the opening of a center at Strattec Security Corp. in Milwaukee in 2013.

Now COSBE plans to deploy its executive members and their employees into more hands-on volunteer roles at GPS centers. The council is touting business volunteer opportunities that include mentoring GPS students one-on-one, guiding students on tours of their offices and operations, and providing 20-minute classroom lessons on their industry and expertise.

Through these volunteer engagements, COSBE businesses will spark students’ awareness of career pathways as well as show them how the practical knowledge they gain in school will transfer into their work experiences, Clark said.

Additional volunteer opportunities for COSBE members include mentoring or judging GPS’ Product Launch Competitions and outreach to GPS parents through presentations, events and meetings.

COSBE invites employees at any level to engage with the GPS community through these volunteer outlets, Steinbrecher said.

The council is also exploring the possibility of partnerships with other education operators in the city as it tries to incorporate small businesses across a spectrum of industries into its new campaign.

“As many of the new jobs are created by smaller companies, we think it’s important to expose students to all business types where they may likely be employed,” Steinbrecher said. “We are looking into providing tours of several COSBE businesses in metro Milwaukee this fall.”

The tours, mentoring, industry presentations and other volunteer initiatives will allow COSBE members to be “at the table” to make a difference in education reform, Steinbrecher said.

“At the end of the day, it’s easy for everyone to bemoan the state of education in Milwaukee, but this is really an opportunity for us to support these kinds of engagements that can potentially change lives for these students,” she said.

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