Sydney Lewis Sydney Lewis
Associate Manager, Communications


April 02, 2024


When a baby is born at Columbus Community Hospital, a lullaby is played to welcome the new member to the community. Dawson Brunswick, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and dad to six-month-old Ava, is empowering his community and future generations of Nebraskans through action and advocacy, highlighting the importance of workforce development, and how workforce issues trickle down to impact childcare, housing, and community growth.

Dawson is the first Business Leads Fellow from the Cornhusker State, taking the leap to bring the shared acumen gained from peer collaboration for the betterment of his community and the state. The Business Leads Fellowship Program, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, equips business leaders with resources and training to improve the connection between education systems, students, and workforce opportunities in their communities through workshops covering education and workforce topics.

Dawson began his career leading the chamber in his hometown of McCook, NE, where he advocated for the voices and needs of business, generating the first net profit in seven years for the organization. Now, as president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, he works to strengthen the community by enhancing economic well-being, in turn, improving the quality of life in the Columbus area.

The Columbus Area Chamber, under his leadership, has made significant strides to invest in helping attract and retain new residents and businesses, and showing students in the area that there are opportunities to pursue skilling outside of the community and still return to build a great life in Columbus. Dawson notes the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s focus on education and workforce issues through programs like Business Leads “shows that it’s an issue that chambers across the nation need to be taking on more.”

“It’s not your grandpa’s chamber. It’s not your dad’s chamber,” Dawson continues, “it is why people are investing in chambers today, and I believe that people in Columbus are investing in us because of the work we are doing in educating our current workforce.”

Through Business Leads, Dawson was connected to priceless networks, mentorship, and resources, providing new perspectives and solutions to issues facing not only his community, but others across the country. Dawson is a firm believer in education as a key steppingstone to building a strong workforce. His work focuses on how education leads to workforce and what role childcare and child development plays in the workforce ecosystem.

Childcare is a multi-generational workforce issue, from working parents and childcare providers to ensuring our education systems are strong enough for the next generation of talent to compete on a global stage. As Dawson left his Business Leads Fellowship graduation in Washington, D.C., he received troubling news: in a community of 25,000 with a growing childcare gap, a local childcare center made the hard financial decision to close. The community was already short of 700 spots for childcare and to lose another 120 spots would be devastating to both parents and employers.

Through insights and connections gained from Business Leads, Dawson led the charge to establish a new nonprofit to purchase and operate the center. Today, Columbus Area Childcare has been operating for more than a year with a new generation of Nebraskans receiving high-quality, affordable childcare. This contributes to the productivity and overall wellbeing of their parents and spotlights the power of public-private collaboration. Dawson’s daughter, Ava, attends the center.

“Had I not gone through the BLF Program, I probably would not have taken the dive into helping start this non-profit. I actually have a six-month-old now and my six-month-old gladly goes to that center, so I am glad we did every day,” Dawson remarked. 

The Columbus Area Chamber has also expanded its support of the next generation through K-12 programs. Looking for an internship? Through the Chamber, interns in the Columbus area are fully immersed in the community, participating in social events to build a sense of community and show young workers there is much more to Columbus, Nebraska than just the job.

By exploring how to put systems in place to solve issues collaboratively and working towards a shared goal, education partners and investors in the Columbus Area Chamber’s workforce efforts see the true value in working with students.

“They see value in us working with those students and getting them ready for their next stage of life, whether it be in a manufacturer, which is a high skill, high wage, opportunity,” says Dawson. “It’s not dark, dirty, and dangerous. It’s completely flipped from what manufacturing was for my grandparents.” 

There’s no shortage of employment opportunities in Columbus, with 2,000 open jobs in blossoming industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and the service industry. However, Dawson notes a nationwide issue that hinders these spots from being filled — childcare and workforce housing. In what Dawson calls the “workforce triangle,” he recognizes that to fill these roles, there is work to be done to strengthen childcare to significantly reduce attrition from the workforce, as well as ensure there is housing accessible to workers and families.

“It’s not just in Columbus. It’s not just in Nebraska. It’s not just in the Midwest. Our entire nation is dealing with it and there’s no quick fix that it takes,” says Dawson. “How do you pull in your community leaders? How can chambers be that facilitator and that convener in these situations? Because we are not going to solve it overnight. We’re not going to solve it tomorrow. We are not going to solve it by Christmas of 2025.”

About the authors

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis is associate communications manager for education, workforce, resilience, and thought leadership at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Read more