The chamber shined the spotlight on local agencies that were helping Willard develop, whether by growing their own industry or by using their resources to help others grow.
“When we talk about growing and growing Willard, we could talk about the money, we could talk about the expansions and the number of employees,” executive director Ricky Branham said.
“But I wanted to share with you about something just a little different about how we are growing our chamber. If you look around the school as you came in you saw all the things from the Leader in Me program — that is is beyond an awesome program. All the support you businesses have put into that — that’s wonderful.”
Branham said the Leader in Me, while a program that is being implemented at Willard Elementary School and eventually throughout the district, has impacted the city’s commerce future.
“What the Leader in Me is is training for your future employees,” he said. “It trains them in soft skills — how to show up for work, show up for school, how to handle situations, how to talk with others, how to communicate, how to build upon relationships, how to work together as a team, how to think and analyze.”
Branham said the chamber, along with the schools and local businesses, believes you “have to capture them while they’re still young.” He sad the Leader in Me program addresses one of the biggest concern he hears most often at the chamber — “What will our workforce look like in 10 to 15 years?”
“That’s what this program is about,” he said.
“It’s about planting those seeds now and while they’re in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and on up — they can learn those skills and then a lot of them will go on to work for you or to start their own businesses, or to become entrepreneurs or to go away to places like North Central State and different places. Then maybe they’ll end up coming right back and working here in Willard, Ohio.”
During his presentation to the crowd Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz said Willard and Pioneer Career & Technology Center have partnered to spread such values throughout students’ education. He said that means not being content with where education and standards are at now.
“The Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of rocks,” Ritz said. “We want to ask ourselves things like ‘Where are we at? Where are we going? What are we doing?”
He said its by these questions Willard and Pioneer are able to help Willard grow — now and in the future as students become adults and enter the work force.
“One of the greatest challenges that we face is preparing students for the work force of today while at the same time recognizing and preparing our programs to move to the next level, to move to that future work force,” Pioneer Superintendent Greg Nickoli said.
“We have been charged with getting our students ready for tomorrow,” Ritz added. He said by implementing the Leader in Me program into the elementary as Phase I, as that spreads to the other grade levels and eventually the entire district, it will eventually change the ‘leadership and reasoning” the school puts out and will educate “the whole student.”
“We need to invest in Willard,” he said.
Branham’s wife Victoria presented for Pepperidge Farm, where she serves as operations manager. She too carried the theme of helping Willard continue to advance and improve.
“We’re growing Willard one pouch at a time,” Victoria Branham said, holding up a single-serve pouch of Goldfish crackers. “We’re proud to call Willard home.”
The single-serve packs are one of the new areas the company is proud of as it now packages and prepares those as one of the options customers can purchase and have delivered from Amazon.com. Customers also can have Milano cookies delivered to their house in the same manner.
Branham said Pepperidge Farm is helping Willard grow as the company grows as well.
Last year, Campbell Soup acquired Snyder-Lance, the company which overseers products and brands such as Kettle Chips, Snyder's of Hanover pretzels and Archway cookies.
“With Archway, they’re one of our sister plants now,” Branham said.
“That’s kind of a big change because years ago they were considered one of our biggest competitors. Now we’re able to use those resources and share what we do with that plant. It’s a great change. We’re going to be able to be much stronger and it really just boosted Willard as the Goldfish powerhouse of the world.”
She said Pepperidge shipped out more than 113 billion individual goldfish.
“More Goldfish (are) made in Willard than anywhere else in the world,” she said.
The city also heard how businesses such as Midwest Industries, LSC Communications, Mercy Health Willard Hospital and Star of the West Industries have helped to shape Willard into what it is today and how each industry intends to continue to do that in the future.
“We’re proud to call Willard home,” Ricky Branham said. “At the chamber we want to continue to ask ‘What do we want to be when we grow up?’ ... We want to continue to improve and to grow our city.”