Public-private effort hopes to increase employment of people with disabilities

For Dave Phillips, the recently created Business Leadership Network of Sedgwick County is as much a personal endeavor as it is a professional one.

Phillips is chairman of the public-private partnership that aims to encourage more employers to hire people with disabilities. He also is the director of restaurant marketing for Sasnak Management, the parent of Carlos O’Kelly’s restaurants, which has signed on to be the lead employer for the start-up group.

Moreover, Phillips’ son deals with developmental disabilities and has “been the beneficiary of wonderful employers … so I was a pretty easy sell.”

Next week, the group will host its inaugural event, a luncheon that will feature a presentation by Keith Wiedenkeller, senior vice president and chief people officer for Kansas City-based AMC Entertainment, who will talk about providing employment to people with autism.

“He’s kind of legendary for what he’s accomplished in hiring people with autism,” Phillips said.

The BLN event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 29 at Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas. The cost is $10, which includes lunch.

BLN was created by the Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization to increase employment of those with disabilities. BLN’s board representation includes officials from Manpower and Amerigroup as well as Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped and Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation.

Phillips said the group hasn’t yet established metrics to measure its progress.

Its primary goals are to get as many companies as possible in Sedgwick County to hire and retain workers with disabilities. BLN will act as a resource to those companies, and provide them opportunities to learn from one another as well as provide resources and information on the subject.

“We’re a resource and networking organization,” he said. “Every business can do something … everyone can do their part” to hire people with disabilities.

Phillips said he’s expecting representatives from eight to 10 major employers to attend next week’s event.