B.C. Kenworth dealer cuts a big cheque to interior college

by Jim Bray

KELOWNA, B.C. –  A B.C. truck dealer will see its name displayed prominently and proudly at the Kelowna campus of Okanagan College after it made a $50,000 donation to the school. Inland Kenworth, which opened its West Kelowna outlet recently, made the gift as a way to help ensure a healthy stream of technicians is available to fill its upcoming positions, as well as to raise its profile in its new community.

According to Inland Kenworth’s vice-president, Kent Brownlow, the idea came from the college initially, but it fit Inland like the proverbial glove.

“They were trying to reach out to the industry and other benefactors to the college to see if they could get some contributions,” he told Truck West. And while he said Inland has traditionally supported its own apprentices’ schooling as part of their work experience, “more recently we’ve realized we have to develop better interest in the trades vocations – in our particular case the commercial transport mechanics and the heavy-duty mechanics and parts men – in order to keep our business viable for the future. We  have to take a higher public profile right at the high school level to make sure that all the students are aware of who we are, what we do and what the opportunities are. The College is obviously a good spot to begin.”

The donation is the first of its kind for Inland, though Brownlow said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the family-owned business make more of them in the future.

“This is kind of an opening start, with the ownership and the senior management taking a look at what an investment might look like and where it would make sense,” he said. One of the reasons that particular institution made sense is that, despite the company having 16 locations across B.C., the Yukon and the southern US, its roots are in the Okanagan.

“Our company began in Penticton,” Brownlow said, “so Okanagan College seemed like a good choice.”

John Haller, development officer, Okanagan College Foundation, noted that the College’s new trades training complex was made necessary by the extreme growth of the Okanagan market.

“We used to be the fifth or sixth largest trades training facility in the province,” he said, “and now we’re number two, next in size to BCIT out of Vancouver.”

Part of the funding for the complex came from government, to the tune of $28 million, but that left them a few million short, which led to them seeking corporate help. “Basically, our foundation is now responsible for providing naming opportunities and marketing strategies for corporations, businesses, associations or even individuals who would have an interest in trades in the region or even in B.C. or Canada or international as well,” he said. “So we’re speaking to all of the companies that would hire our grads, and Inland Kenworth is one of those. They’re a well-known company, they’ve been in business for almost as long as we have been in training and when I started talking with their new branch manager here in Kelowna there was definitely an interest for them to get involved in our new building.”

For its 50 grand, Inland not only helps to ensure a talent pool for the future, it also gets some promotion at the College. “Basically, one of the drive-in bays will now be called the Inland Kenworth bay,” said Haller, noting that “the goal of the foundation is to name all the bays as part of our fundraising but Inland Kenworth was the first in and they’ve basically set an example now for the rest of the industry.” Being first in means Inland will have the prime bay, he said “with some very good exposure to the students and instructors, and also to the general public as they tour through out buildings.”

The concept is similar to other naming opportunities where corporations sponsor educational – or even sporting – facilities. “Like many college campuses,” Brownlow said, “you see rooms named after individuals or companies, and in our case it’s going to be a very significant sized truck bay in the truck shop.”

The donation was made with a big splash at the open house Inland threw to promote its new West Kelowna facility.

The money – and the Inland signage – is meant to last the life of the building. “It’s a one-time sponsorship marketing strategy and they basically remain in there until the building falls down,” said Haller. “We’re not about to…create partnerships with industry and then ask them again for more money. We’re looking at long-term partnerships that we can establish and then maintain over long periods of time. And Inland Kenworth, because of their success in the industry, gravitated towards that.” He said Inland was a great catch because “they’re new in the community and one of their first sort of acts of community is that they get involved with the College and make a substantial donation to the training complex. It makes them a good neighbour and for us it set a very good example of the leadership they have and how well respected they are in the industry.”

To Inland Kenworth, it’s about taking responsibility. “The sort of underlying theme here is that our industry really needs to do a little bit better job of growing its own,” Brownlow said. “The forecast is very good for our industry…and we need to make sure that students graduating from high school are considering our trades and technical side of business as a career choice – so we’re trying to do better job of reaching out and contacting high schools and counselors and job forums and of course the social and electronic media. We’ve not been good at that up to date.

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