Worker Grants A Little Harder To Get

June 4, 2002
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Employers can expect to have a little tougher time securing state funds to upgrade workers’ skills in the wake of a recent cut in state spending.

The $3 million percent hit the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s job-training program took last month in Gov. John Engler’s executive order slashing the state budget means there’s less money to go around to fund workforce development grants. The net result is a tightening of the criteria used to evaluate grant requests.

“It just means we won’t be able to go as far down the application list as we have in the past,” MEDC Chief Executive Officer Doug Rothwell said.

The MEDC awards millions each year to help employers pay for worker training. The grants, which require a 25 percent match from the employers, are designed to retain existing employers in the state and generate new jobs.

The MEDC’s Economic Development Job Training program was initially budgeted to spend $29.5 million during the state’s 2002 fiscal year. Gov. Engler’s executive order reduced that amount to $26.5 million. With $801,248 in grants awarded earlier this month to provide training at 16 companies that employ 2,154 people, the program so far has provided more than $2.6 million in workforce development funds since the 2002 fiscal year began Oct. 1.

A reduction in funding for the program worries some who see the present period of reduced workloads brought on by the economic recession as the best time to put more toward workforce development to better prepare workers for when business rebounds.

“It’s going to be a very interesting time for manufacturers because this is the time to get people up to speed on their training,” said Joy Gaasch, president of The Chamber Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg.

Gaasch expects that local economic development agencies, community colleges, vocational schools and training providers that secure state workforce development funds on behalf of companies will have to place a heightened importance on pooling resources and bringing employers together for joint applications to support like training initiatives.

The Holland Area Chamber of Commerce has sought to increase its participation in the program, President Chris Byrnes said. A reduction in state funding for workforce development efforts “is going to provide a little extra challenge for us,” Byrnes said.

Rothwell, however, doesn’t see the recent reduction in workforce development funding as a major concern. The level of funding remains high enough that a large number of employers seeking assistance will still get it.

“This should not be on anybody’s warning list. It still should be able to cover most of the needs,” Rothwell said. “The issue won’t be that people won’t get money. It will be ‘What’s available?’”

While the $3 million cut has generated some concerns, it could have been worse. The Economic Development Job Training program is one of the MEDC’s largest initiatives. The agency, in formulating budget cuts, sought to minimize the affects on the program as much as possible, Assistant Vice President of Communications Jennifer Kopp said.

“We recognize that this is an important program,” Kopp said. “We didn’t want to scale back on it anymore than we had to.” 

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