Article of Interest: First Friend Program Flourishes in La Crosse

02/05/2024 2:34 pm

Addressing the workforce challenges, the First Friend program, led by Beth Franklin, workforce strategies director at the Greater La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, has proven to be a dynamic solution over its five-year existence. Launched to attract and retain talent in the area while tackling diversity and inclusion issues, the program has garnered recognition for its effectiveness.

Under Franklin's guidance, the program has shown great impact, helping nearly 500 individuals and families relocating to the area with a 92% retention rate. Acknowledging its contributions, First Friend stood out as a finalist in the 2023 Wisconsin Economic Development Association awards for its role in promoting diversity and inclusion in talent attraction and retention.

Crucial to the success of the program is the active engagement of the Franciscan Spirituality Center, providing an inclusive environment for newcomers. Franklin emphasizes the importance of building social capital through a network of over 150 local partners, ranging from schools to nonprofits, creating a safety net that fosters friendships and a sense of belonging within the La Crosse community.

A core principle of the program is transparency, addressing both the strengths and shortcomings of the community during tours and talks. Franklin ensures authentic connections by linking newcomers with residents who share similar backgrounds, allowing individuals to make informed decisions about their fit within the La Crosse community.

La Crosse highlights diverse "third spaces" dedicated to inclusivity, such as public libraries, the Franciscan Spirituality Center, and organizations focusing on diversity. The First Friend program recognizes the importance of comfort, connecting individuals based on shared interests and life experiences, forming smaller communities within the larger one.

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