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The receipt in August of a $17.5 million federal grant to be used toward workforce training was certainly a point of pride for the city of Springfield, says Sally Payne, the municipality’s former workforce development director.
The city was one of only 32 recipients – and the lone awardee in Missouri – of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s grant for a workforce training program to support the region’s health care, trucking and education industries. Payne says the grant will support 51 Missouri counties and train close to 3,000 people.
“For me, it’s not about the dollar amount, but what we do with those dollars in helping transform someone’s life,” she says.
Payne abruptly resigned from her post at the city on Oct. 19, but she points to this and other large grant awards as a point of pride during her tenure.
After beginning her career with the city in 2008, Payne was promoted in August 2021 to director of workforce development, having previously served as the department’s interim leader since late 2019. Months into her interim role, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and forced a quick shift for the department to offer services virtually, she says.
“We became what I like to call ‘workforce first responders’ as the economy became extremely volatile,” she says, adding by May 2020 the Missouri Job Center she led became the first in the state to reopen to the public after a 10-week closure.
Payne takes pride in how her staff worked amid the pandemic, which included hosting drive-thru hiring events. The Job Center also has aided large employers, such as Amazon.com Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Hy-Vee Inc., collectively hire more than 2,000 employees in the current challenging job market, she says.
“I have been so proud of my staff, and true leaders have emerged,” she says, noting their scope of work isn’t always the prettiest, flashiest or easiest job to perform. “I support those desiring to grow and promote, but I also encourage them to do the heavy lifting that is needed for a leadership role.”
Brian Fogle, president of Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc., witnessed some of Payne’s leadership firsthand as she’s sought to address local labor shortage issues.
“Her insight and experience helped us in creating the Let’s Get to Work Fund, which has now granted out over $600,000 to help remove transportation barriers for people desiring to enter the workforce,” he says.
Last year, Payne started Workforce Vibe, a first-time podcast for a city department in Springfield, she says. Topics covered included mental health in the workplace, child care issues and generational differences.
Payne says everything she does is civically minded.
She’s helped create the Disability Provider Network, which strives to connect organizations providing disability services with employers to bridge the employment gap. Payne also serves on the Adult Learning Network, which brings together all higher education systems in the state with workforce development strategists to engage nontraditional students and encourage them to continue or finish their education.
The first downtown Springfield branch for Arvest Bank opened; a longtime licensed massage therapist became a first-time business owner; and 7 Brew Coffee opened its fourth shop in Springfield.