City partners with youth achievement program

INDEPENDENCE -- The City of Independence has entered into a cooperative partnership with Polk HALO (Helping Achieve Lifelong Objectives), a youth work program.

INDEPENDENCE -- The City of Independence has entered into a cooperative partnership with Polk HALO (Helping Achieve Lifelong Objectives), a youth work program.

Independence will serve as the organization's fiscal agent, acting as a pass-through for the annual federal funding it receives.

HALO has also committed to becoming the anchor tenant in a proposed building for the Greater Independence Business Incubator program.

"It will be a way to install in our youth some entrepreneurial skills," said Katherine Bartlett, HALO executive director, "and is a great way for them to gain a sense for what it's like to start a business."

HALO, which is headquartered in Monmouth, annually helps about 100 low-income and unskilled young adults ages 17-21 get training, experience and credentials to find living-wage jobs in work sectors ranging from information technology to hospitality.

"It's not just placing them in a fast-food restaurant," Bartlett said.

Money to support the program passes from the U.S. Department of Labor to the Oregon Enterprise for Employment and Education (E3) - which oversees HALO - and ultimately a fiscal agent for the organization.

The Willamette Education Service District (WESD) has contracted with E3 in the past several years, but the sides mutually dissolved the agreement last September.

Bartlett said she approached Independence about assuming the role following a cooperative effort last summer in which HALO youth erected the first segment of the Ash Creek Trail near Talmadge Middle School.

"We thought it was important enough to take part," said Shawn Irvine, community development technician. The contract went into effect on July 1. Independence will receive about $325,000 to pass through to HALO.

"We really want to stress that no city funds are being used for this," Bartlett said. "We will pay some handling fees to Independence for processing our payroll."

Bartlett said the program would have a strong focus on construction, manufacturing and health care during the next fiscal year.

"This is in response to the grant we've received," she said. "There are high-skill and high-wage jobs that need to be filled in Oregon."

Irvine said a key element in the partnership was the opportunity to have HALO become a cornerstone for its business incubator.

Independence launched the program earlier this year, assembling a five-person board comprised of city leaders, business owners, residents and a representative from Monmouth City Council.

The purpose of the incubator is to give start-up firms the chance to grow by providing business education, shared administrative services, affordable rent and subsidized fiber-optic telephone and internet services.

The hope is that businesses that succeed and leave the program would ultimately settle in Independence.

The city is currently searching for suitable property for a new building to house the incubator. One possibility is an old municipal water facility off south Main Street.

A complex would need to be about 20,000-25,000 square feet, and the number of client businesses it would house will depend on demand for space and the service, said Tim Brass, Independence special projects coordinator.

It could take up to two years before any construction began, depending on funding and land acquisition, Brass said.

HALO recently signed a memorandum of support to be the anchor tenant in the proposed structure. Irvine said with the agreement in place, HALO youth could be trained as employees for any start-up firms.

"They could provide the youth with internships or mentoring relationships," Irvine said. "This would essentially be a free form of assistance for a start-up business, after they train the kids with what they need them to do."

Bartlett said the partnership will contribute to economic development in Polk County.

And "that's a huge part of what we do," she said.

"It's new, it's innovative and a great environment for the kids to be in ... and we'll be able to connect kids to local employers and be a pipeline for skilled employees."


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