Jason Neumann is thinking about manufacturing, and now he and his family are thinking about Madisonville.
He is a soldier assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (air assault) at Fort Campbell who has served multiple combat tours overseas, and he retires from the U.S. Army in a few months.
He's thinking the manufacturing industry is where he might next apply his proven skills for computer-aided design and drafting and operational planning skills, and he is considering where to write this whole next chapter of his life.
But, of course, work and professional plans aren't the totality of Staff Sgt. Neumann's story. The Wisconsin native has a wife, Stephanie, and stepson, Christian, and they each have their own needs, interests and desires for their next home.
"What to consider in looking for a town to live in for relocating is a great question. I would say a good school for my stepson who is autistic -- having a good relationship with those teachers and their ability to handle stressful situations when dealing with students with those characteristics.
"I would also say that the local businesses that are in the area are important. I, for one, don't like to look at a catalog to order items; I want to actually go to the store and see it for myself. It's similar for job opportunities. I'm not looking to travel 45 minutes to an hour for work, when I might be working for 12 hours or so."
These were the kinds of considerations weighing on Neumann when he and his family visited Madisonville for Military Day held on Flag Day, June 14: Could he imagine his stepson thriving in school here? Could he imagine himself, Stephanie and Christian being happy shopping, playing and going about life here? Could he imagine himself starting a new career here?
This was precisely the idea in putting together Madisonville Military Day -- to get people like Neumann and his family imagining Madisonville.
With the help of so many partners that it took us more than a week to write all of the thank-you notes, Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development brought to town active-duty military members who plan to exit in the next 12 months, as well as their loved ones, from Fort Campbell. They ate, they played, they met potential employers and neighbors, and they were among the guests of honor at the phenomenal Friday Night Live celebration downtown featuring the music of Tracy Lawrence and Joe Nichols. We gave them the special treatment for at least a couple of reasons. One, we're thankful for their service to our country. Two, we need their skills and work ethic in our town.
Madisonville is at a 15-year record for open jobs, and our employers are struggling mightily to find the talent they need in those positions. Economic development has organized two job fairs in the first half of this year, and both had hundreds more available jobs than they attracted job seekers.
Studies show that people with military experience tend to have a high rate of civilian work success, and so we see Fort Campbell as a crucial pipeline of talent for our community's prosperity. And we saw Madisonville Military Day as a great start to tapping into that talent.
Certainly, we learned a lot along the way. In collaborating with Fort Campbell's Transition Assistance Program and United Services Organization, for example, we learned that the opening of I-69 has made Madisonville more appealing to a family in which one person might be commuting to and from work in the last months while a spouse remains on active duty.
We learned about the kinds of support services that families might be looking for, in terms of behavioral-health and community-college offerings, for example. We learned about the kinds of new businesses that retired military families might introduce to our community (anyone interested in local Hawaiian or German restaurants?).
We learned about the opportunities on post for ongoing connection between our employers and job seekers there, and we learned about the assistance our companies might need in helping interpret military resumes for civilian job offerings.
And what did Neumann and his family learn about Madisonville?
"What appealed to my family and me was the closeness of all the people we interacted with," he said. "Everyone that we met was very nice and knowledgeable. I know my stepson was thrilled about the virtual-reality gaming at The Ledge. There was a pool, mini golf and parks all centrally located within Madisonville. Mayor (Kevin) Cotton went the extra mile to make my stepson feel very special and to include all of us. It was a good atmosphere that our family was presented."
Ray Hagerman is president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation (
), which promotes and recruits commercial enterprises that offer quality jobs and encourages expansion and retention of existing businesses.