FULTON, MONTGOMERY & SCHOHARIE -- With the statewide average unemployment rate under 4 percent, the concept of "workforce development" took center stage at the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council meeting.
Madhuri Kommareddi, the state's new director of workforce development, told the council the state's 2019 budget is making $175 million available as part of the Workforce Development Initiative.
"Depending on where you are, we're at historically low unemployment rates, which means there's a true demand for skilled workers right now, so we're in a little bit of a war for talent that our businesses are in, that our state is in, so really it's us figuring out how do we get the right types of skills to our employees, so they can be a part of this growing economy," Kommareddi said.
The Workforce Development Initiative changes the way entities will apply for grants to be used for employee training and skill development. Kommareddi said the new process is modeled after the state's Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process.
"Instead of applying to programs from different agencies with different kinds of restrictions and purposes, we're creating a more friendly workforce development system for everyone to access, so you won't need to be an expert in New York state bureaucracy," Kommareddi said. "You will now have one consolidated way to access workforce development in New York state."
Kommareddi said the funding is available to businesses, non-profits goups, unions and educational entities like community colleges. She said information about the application process will be available at www.ny.gov/wokforcedevelopment. Applications for funding will first go to the Workforce Development Committees of the regional economic councils and will be evaluated based on these criteria:
• the role of local and regional partners
• project cost, and the extent of funds being made available by the applicant or other entities
• performance targets that are measurable and achievable
• the degree to which the training is transferable to other employers
The regional economic council met at the Allen House building at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The council represents Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties.
In April the unemployment rate for the Capital Region was 3.7 percent, but it was higher in Fulton (5.6%), Montgomery (5.6%) and Schoharie (5.3%).
Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose said businesses in his county have told him they need help with workforce development.
"We have a very strong [business] retention program, so we meet with companies on a monthly basis throughout the county. There's a lot of counties that are hiring, so we're going to meet with our county project team and try to develop some kind of program with FMCC and maybe the Chamber of Commerce to get some funding," Rose said.
Rose said private sector employers need better workers, sometimes with more technical skills.
"They need to attract employees, and there's a lack of soft skills. A soft skill is showing up to work on time, making it through your shift when you're supposed to," he said. "Depending on the company, they also need technical skills because a lot of these companies are in advanced manufacturing."
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, in his state of the county address April 25, said his county needs more workforce development.
Monday was also the kickoff for the ninth round of CFA grant process, the signature economic development program of the Cuomo administration, which relies on the state's 10 regional economic council's to propose funding projects targeted at stimulating economic growth.
Ashley McClosky, the state's deputy director of the regional councils, said since 2011 the state has spent $6.1 billion on 7,300 projects statewide, which, according to the state, has helped to either create or retain 230,000 jobs.
One CFA grant program is the competitive Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which awards $10 million grants. Since the creation of the DRI program, three cities in the Mohawk Valley have received the award: Rome, Oneonta and Amsterdam.
McClosky said the DRI will be available again this year. Three municipalities in the Mohawk Valley region have competed and lost multiple past rounds of the contest: Gloversville, Utica and Cooperstown.
McClosky said all of the CFA funding is competitive in nature. She said councils this year will be applying for funding from three sources: $550 million in capital grants, with the top five regional council applications each getting $100 million (the rest will compete for funding from the remaining $50 million); $75 million in excelsior tax credits available to all 10 economic development regions; and $525 million in additional funding from various state agencies, also available to all 10 regions.
"I would encourage you to go to the regional council website, regionalcouncils.ny.gov, to take a look at the available resource guide to see the specific programs available from all of the state agencies, eligibility, all of the details you need to know," she told the council.
McClosky said some of the criteria for funding the state is supporting this year includes:
• projects that develop an environmental justice strategy for the region that also relates to economic development
• projects that promote downtown development and sustainable community development strategies.
Monday marked the last Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council meeting for council Co-chairman Dustin Swanger, the president of FMCC. Swanger has announced his intention to retire from the college in July. Members of the council gave Swanger a six pack of beer from Saranac Brewery as a going away present.
Council Co-chairman Lawrence T. Gilroy III, president of Gilroy, Kernan & Gilroy, praised Swanger's active leadership at FMCC and on the regional council.
"Dusty has spent about 33 years taking people and helping them to have better careers. What a noble path. I was thinking today that he probably shouldn't have been named Dusty, because there isn't much dust around him," he said. "If you take a look at this beautiful facility [the Allen House], less than a year old, if you look at the way this college campus is being left — he's left a great educational footprint."