Talking shop with Kathy Swan, owner, JCS/TEL-LINK

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When she's not running her own business, Kathy Swan is a tireless advocate for others through her roles with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education and her newest role as a member of the Cape Girardeau City Council.

Q: You trained to be a nurse. What made you decide to come back to the business your father started in 1959?

A: Necessity, as a result of my mother's passing in 1975. Since she served as the bookkeeper for the business, someone was needed to fill the void. My husband Reg and my father were busy with the technical side of the business, so I picked up the paperwork side of the business.

Kathy Swan is owner of JCS/TEL-LINK in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Q: Has it been hard to keep up with changing technology in the communications business?

A: At times. Technology can be both fun and challenging. High-tech communications businesses thrive on securing the "hottest" merchandise, but constantly tread uncertain waters. What is coming next? When will it be available? Should our company offer the product? Will our customers like the product? How much will it cost? However, living in a medium-sized city is an advantage in this business. We benefit from the experience of our counterparts in large metropolitan areas who receive the products and services much sooner than we do.

Q: Tell me about serving as a member of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry Board of Directors.

A: The organization serves as a very effective business lobbying group in the state Capitol. In addition, the group hosts business seminars, offers membership benefit programs, champions educational initiatives, and presents many networking opportunities for members. Since the Missouri Chamber is comprised of a multitude of businesses across the state, the membership of the board is diverse, as well. A majority of the board members represent large business. As a small-business owner, my perspective can differ slightly from those involved in big business. Increasing membership in the small-business sector could be quite beneficial.

Q: Tell me about your role with the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Cape Girardeau Partnership for Higher Education.

A: I was initially appointed in 2003 by Governor Holden, reappointed in 2005 by Governor Blunt, and served three years as chair. The CBHE is a nine-member state board that coordinates the system of higher education in the state of Missouri, which is comprised of more than 400,000 students at 13 public four-year university campuses, 21 public two-year campuses, 25 independent colleges and universities and 163 private [proprietary] schools. Within the past four years, the board has approved a long-range plan, "Imperatives for Change: Building a Higher Education System for the 21st Century" and developed a higher education funding plan in cooperation with the state's institutions. Three years ago, after having received several calls from community members regarding a need for a community college in Cape Girardeau County, I determined that the next step was to convene a discussion group involving institutional representatives along with interested parties. With assistance from the Cape Chamber of Commerce and the Commissioner of Higher Education, the Cape Girardeau Partnership for Higher Education was formed, commissioned a needs analysis, reviewed proposals, drafted a partnership agreement and formed a new advisory board.

Q: Why is it important to you to volunteer your time to education projects?

A: I've been bitten by the education bug. As the eldest son, my father was pulled out of high school in 10th grade to help support the family. My mother grew up in Laflin, Mo., where the closest high school was in Marble Hill, Mo. She wanted to become a nurse, but she did not have transportation to attend high school.

The education bug bites when one volunteers time in a policymaking role in education. Policy decisions in education impact the state's work force; but most importantly, these decisions affect people. Better education means greater lifetime earnings, better health care, a more secure retirement, and more opportunity for our children. By providing a good education, we are "paying it forward" for our children and grandchildren. Education changes lives, permanently.

Q: What inspired you to run for city council and what do you hope to accomplish in your new role?

A: Serving on city council is a great opportunity to serve our city. I hope to use my experiences, resources and networks in business and with other boards and commissions to benefit our community. My experience as a business owner can be helpful in attracting new business and supporting existing local businesses. Owning small businesses in other communities [and another state] also gives another perspective from which to approach issues in our own community, such as increasing city revenue without raising taxes. Having worked directly with multiple city and county governments in our own business has resulted in a greater understanding of the challenges faced by them, particularly in tough economic times. The preparedness of the work force hinges on education and training. Strengthening our relationships between education and business creates a stronger foundation for our city, a foundation that encourages businesses to locate here and ensures that we have a trained workforce to support our existing businesses.

Q: What's the secret to being successful at work and at home in a relationship?

A: We are frequently asked how we are able to work together. Throughout the years, we have had separate job responsibilities: He is the techie/sales guy, I'm the "bean counter." We have a mutual respect for one another's expertise.

Yes, of course we take work home. I don't know of any other couples who work together who don't take work home. Most children of small-business owners have endured and most likely participated in work conversations at the dinner table. It must not have been unbearable since both our son and daughter work with us, now.

The secret? Respect and a mutual commitment to head in the same direction, both at work and in life.

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