By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Workforce Solutions of Central Texas, the regional affiliate of the Texas Workforce Commission, has received a fast shot in the arm like it has never seen before in the form of $2.435 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars that it has to spend by September 2010.
"We'll probably never see an infusion like this again," said Jerry Haisler, executive director of the five Central Texas Workforce Centers that serve the seven counties of the WSCT's region. "We're going to make the most of it."
The six centers in Killeen, Cameron, Rockdale, Lampasas and Temple serve customers in Bell, Coryell, Milam, Mills, San Saba, Hamilton and Lampasas counties.
Funds provided by the ARRA, also called "stimulus," across the country are intended to speed the recovery from the recession. Shrinking unemployment rates, increasing home sales and other economic signs in the last few months have tended to indicate a recovery is already under way in this area. Still, economic performance is still considerably behind what it was last year. Visits to the centers are up 1,000 to 1,500 now from the 9,000 logged in April.
Haisler points out frequently that even if the ranks of the jobless are shrinking, a single job loss is still a catastrophe for one family. With that in mind, though, the needs for economic assistance are greatest in the population centers of Bell and Coryell counties, and within Bell County, the problems differ between Temple and Killeen.
Temple has lost 300 to 400 jobs in layoffs. Izzy Design lost 100 people, and Texas Hydraulics lost 80, among others. Work continues on finding new positions for more than 900 people idled by the closing of the Alcoa plant in Rockdale. Many of the Temple shrinkages involved nationwide firms reacting to problems that were much worse on a national scale than here.
Killeen's defense-related, health care and service industries are more constant than the manufacturing activities of east Bell County, but Haisler said there has been a cumulative effect of slower business that has caused very small layoffs and longer periods of unemployment. It also has constant infusions of recently-transferred military family members who need to work and exiting service members staying in the area. So the numbers of unemployed locally are fewer per capita than elsewhere but greater because of the size of the population.
Haisler said, "We have a new campaign called Talent for Central Texas that we're starting to advertise. It incorporates the former Jobs 4 Military Families program but is expanded to reach anyone else who has been disconnected from a previous career."
Funds for retraining
He said that because of the stimulus funds, the agency has two to three times more money than in previous years to finance retraining. "For displaced workers and for people who fall below a certain income level, we can pay for all tuition and books and for uniforms," he said. "Almost 70 percent of our spending has to be on new training."
He mentioned programs in teaching and health care, particularly nurses and certified nursing assistants, and welding, heating and air conditioning, auto mechanics and computer technology. Central Texas College and Temple College have many programs, and WSCT has partnered with Texas State Technical College in Waco for many skilled trades.
The agency has a long list of high-demand occupations with training available at those places and Texas A&M-Central Texas, CyberTex Institute of Technology in Austin and Killeen and other institutions, many leading to teacher certification or state licensure.
He said the agency was able to fund the wages of 400 young people for the summer youth program as opposed to the usual 100 or so. "We place them in internship-type jobs where they actually learn significant skills and learn something about how the world works," he said. "They're not just keep-busy jobs like picking up trash."
Money being spent
Haisler said the WSCT is working with the San Saba-based Hill Country Community Action Agency, which wants to use a $500,000 stimulus grant to set up job search-related services such as computers in libraries and search skills workshops in resume writing and interviewing.
About $300,000 of the stimulus money has gone to add staff at the centers to try to meet WSCT's self-imposed mandate that no one should have to wait for services, WSCT executive director Susan Kamas said at a recent board retreat.
The programs have just begun, and the payoff will not be known until after the money is all spent, whether that's September 2010 or earlier, but Haisler is confident. "We've received awards and extra funding year after year for being at the top in the state for matching people and jobs, and we've still got that capability," he said.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557,