Feds give $14M for training
The Tri-Counties’ Workforce Investment Boards have gotten nearly $14 million in federal stimulus money and are teaming up to go after an additional $1 million grant to help create green jobs in the region.
The boards have both public- and private-sector members and oversee federal workforce investment money that flows through the state government. Much of the new stimulus money will go to businesses in the form of wages for youths to get a foothold in the work place and help pay to train or retrain adult workers.
But the boards are still working out how best to spend millions of dollars to help stimulate employment and are asking for business owners’ input.
Each county has its own board, and each board is taking its own approach to putting new federal money to use to create jobs. But the boards in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties have also signed an agreement to work together to pursue grants for the region, including going after $1 million for green job creation.
At the same time, private sector organizations such as the Economic Vitality Corp. in SLO are spearheading an effort to pool information and that could help Central Coast projects jump ahead in the line for stimulus dollars.
Here’s a closer look at efforts to get federal money flowing to the Tri-Counties.
Faced with competition from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and a collaborative from the Central Valley, the Tri-Counties’ workforce boards and Monterey County have banded together to present a more compelling case for grants, said Cheryl Moore, executive director of the Ventura County Workforce Investment Board.
“Taken separately, our individual counties find it difficult to compete with some of the larger counties and larger collaborative,” Moore said. “We have similar demographics and similar priorities which include allied health care and green jobs. If it looks like it’s to the advantage of the region and three out of four of us agree to it, we’ll go after grants so we don’t compete against each other.”
The first effort under the boards’ agreement is angling for $1 million for green job creation.
“What we’re trying to do is demonstrate that the region has a need to grow a green workforce,” Moore said. “We clearly have commonalities for landscaping protection, habitat management, water management and solar energy.”
If the effort succeeds, though, each county’s board will retain the autonomy to put the money to use on the ground as it sees fit. The goal is “to act together where it makes sense, but to act separately where that makes sense,” said Ray McDonald, executive director of the Santa Barbara County board.
“We’re not thinking of making any formal body that binds the counties together,” McDonald said. “It’s just a more convenient way to go after funding.”
Regardless of how the effort to secure the green jobs grant goes, the Tri-Counties’ workforce boards still have a lot of money to put to work. Moore said Ventura County has received nearly $7.7 million.
About $2.8 million of that money is going toward a youth jobs program that will cover the cost of wages and payroll costs for workers ages 14 to 24 from June through September and again next summer. All a business has to do to get started is contact the board, and though Moore had no specific figures yet, she said she’s seen strong interest.
Other portions of the money will help pay for adult workers to train or retrain on the job, Moore said.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County’s workforce board has gotten just shy of $4 million in stimulus funding.
Its youth summer jobs program will run in July and August and will include county departments but not private companies. McDonald said he’s aiming to incorporate businesses next summer, but much infrastructure has to be rebuilt to work up to it.
“We’ve not had federally funded summer youth employment programs in 10 years. But every police chief in America will tell you that the best thing to fight youth crime in the summer months is a jobs program,” McDonald said.
For adult workers, Santa Barbara’s board is looking to identify green and clean jobs, help give workers basic skills such as writing and computer literacy and even provide programs on entrepreneurship.
“A number of folks who are being laid off and being impacted by the economic downturn are mid-career folks, people who are in their late 40s and 50s,” McDonald said. “We’re looking to help these mid-career people who are managers see what they can do to start their own business. The important part is to let them know what’s required of it. It’s a 24/7 type of thing. It’s not something where you go in at nine and turn it off at five.”
San Luis Obispo County
San Luis Obispo County’s workforce board got more than $2 million — nearly double its normal budget, said Joyce Aldrich, the board’s executive.
SLO County will have a youth summer jobs program as well, and is also looking to expand efforts to help employers provide on-the-job training for adults.
“We can pay the employer 50 percent of the wages while the employees are trained,” Aldrich said. “The stipulation is that the worker has to stay on after the training.”
Aldrich said the SLO County board is looking to expand the help it provides to businesses who are contemplating layoffs in order to help them avoid job cuts. Also in the works are a new one-stop job center that would be located between Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande and an entrepreneurship boot camp.
Aldrich is seeking businesses and investors’ input on what’s needed in a boot camp.
Private sector efforts
In the private sector, SLO County’s Economic Vitality Corp. has taken the lead in organizing projects from five-county swath of the Central Coast that includes SLO and Santa Barbara counties to better position the projects for funding.
The group put together a thick work plan that lays out some of the most promising projects in the region, such as a compress natural gas refueling station in North SLO County and efforts to boost passenger rail ridership in Santa Barbara County.
The plan goes to state officials who have agreed to help hunt for funding for the projects.
“We’ve created a mechanism for the region to collaborate, to see what our neighbors are doing,” said John Knight, the consultant who helped the Economic Vitality Corp. develop the plan. “The unseen value the plan will have is to help the state work behind the scenes to help organizations get these projects funded.”