Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado has received $500,000 from the GE Johnson Construction Community Foundation to build a finance park to develop local students’ workforce and financial readiness skills.

The park will be located in Old Colorado City and named after Gilbert E. Johnson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based firm.

“The partnership with Junior Achievement is a natural fit for the foundation, as we are committed to good corporate citizenship and enhancing the community in which we live and work,” said Jim Johnson, president and CEO of GE Johnson Construction Company  in a press release.

Carrie McKee, president and CEO of Junior Achievement, said the nonprofit is delighted by the foundation’s generosity.

“We are thrilled about the commitment they’ve made to our community and kids at Junior Achievement,” McKee said. “G.E. Johnson has been involved with our foundation for more than a decade and are familiar with our programs and their impact.”

The Gil Johnson JA Finance Park will be one program, and combined with JA BizTown, housed at the Center for Free Enterprise. The park will host eighth grade JA students from El Paso, Teller, and Pueblo counties, who will be assigned a job and salary during a daylong field trip.

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“They’ll work on their business and budgeting skills by buying a car, paying for their license plates, insurance and other expenses such as childcare,” McKee said.

Construction on the 11,000-square-foot simulated city is to begin during the summer-fall timeframe and completed by 2017.

But before the nonprofit can break ground on the project, it needs to raise another $1 million. JA’s original goal for its capital campaign was to raise $3.9 million and is currently at $2.9 million.

McKee said she is confident the organization will raise the money, adding G.E. Johnson’s donation is the biggest JA has received this year.

“I think Jim’s and GE Johnson’s donation is a motivator and catalyst for other organizations to consider a similar investment in JA’s capital campaign,” she said.

McKee said there will be opportunities for up to 20 organizations to have storefronts in the simulated city.

“Kids will work for these companies,” she said. “The storefronts are a great opportunity to market and brand to the thousands of kids and volunteers who will come through the center each year. I think the foundation’s gift will create momentum around that.”

There are more than 60 similar centers across the country, according to McKee.

“We know several local students who drive up to Denver to participate in a finance park,” she said. “We don’t want them to have to travel for that; we want to create the opportunity in Colorado Springs.”