Dec 26, 2013 - By Trevor Brown, MCT News ServiceHundreds of additional Wyoming residents could be eligible for workplace training and other job-placement programs if lawmakers approve a $4 million budget request.
The state's Department of Workforce Services is seeking the funding increase in its upcoming two-year budget.
Department Director Joan Evans told a legislative panel that the 2015-16 proposal includes a $2 million increase for its Workforce Development Training Fund.
The economic development program offers grants for businesses to train existing or new workers.
Evans said in the current 2013-14 biennium, the agency's $5 million standard budget paid for about 5,700 workers to attend conferences, receive certification or take training classes.
Depending on the criteria they qualify for, workers can receive grants of up to $4,000 per year.
The extra $2 million could boost the number of workers who could receive grants to about 7,500.
Evans said there is a large demand for the grants, and the business community has identified the money as a key recruiting or expansion incentive.
"Industry groups and business associations approached not only the agency but also the governor, asking that we make available more opportunities for businesses to be trained," she said during a recent budget hearing with the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee. "It's a heavily utilized tool."
Gov. Matt Mead is recommending approval of half the agency's budget request.
If his recommendation is accepted, $500,000 of the training funds would go to small businesses, $250,000 to businesses in emerging industries, $125,000 for entrepreneurs and $125,000 for businesses that are struggling with their operations.
Mead is also recommending approval of the agency's request to use $2 million in employment support funds that would otherwise flow into a state unemployment trust fund.
If accepted, this money would go to the department's Employment and Training Division, which provides recruitment, screening, training and career guidance services.
Evans said this one-time funding would allow the department to assist or train an additional 330 residents who seek help through one of the state's workforce centers.
She said the money is needed because the division is losing federal funds and is facing increased costs.
The department originally asked to be able to spend $4 million of the employment support funds, but Evans said she agrees with the governor's recommendation for the $2 million or "any amount that can help our participants."
Randy Bruns, president of the local economic development group Cheyenne LEADS, said the training and job placement programs are a major asset in helping to recruit or expand businesses in Wyoming.
"It is very important here because Wyoming doesn't have many economic development tools in its tool chest compared to other states," he said. "And it's something that is at or near the top of the list of things we hear that companies want."
He said Wyoming has to be competitive with other states. And, he said, the training programs help show companies that they can find a capable workforce here.
"And the workforce training here has been very successful with existing companies that want to expand or being part of our toolbox in persuading new ones to come here," he said. "It provides them some assurance that we are going to work with them to find and train workers."
The Joint Appropriations Committee will vote on Mead's recommendations for the Department of Workforce Services when the lawmakers meet in January for another round of budget hearings.
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