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Feds Offer Funds to Help Poor Alabama Communities ‘Reimagine’ Workforce Development

Authority announced Wednesday that it is spending $1.7 million to help “reimagine” workforce development in the Mississippi Delta region, including 20 counties in Alabama.

The federal-state agency, which represents 252 counties and parishes in an eight-state region, made the announcement in Washington County at the first of a series of summits planned throughout the larger region this summer.

“Just like the flow of the Mississippi River, the Delta economy is constantly changing – and our workforce training needs to change with it,” Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-chairman Christopher Masingill said in a prepared statement. “Working with our state partners, we are committed to enhancing the system of how we train our workers and connect our people to the jobs of the future.”

The money will pay for technical assistant for communities to strengthen the connection between education and job skills. Communities can apply for grants of up to $50,000 for technical assistance. The region covers high-poverty counties and parishes along the Mississippi River, from southern Illinois to Louisiana. Some Alabama counties are included, even though the state does not touch the Mississippi River, because the profile of those counties is similar.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley boasted during his keynote address at the conference that the state already has the best workforce training program in the county. He said the state has spent $15 million on scholarships for dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to earn two-college degrees at the same time they obtain high school diplomas.

He said Alabama also has spent $51 million on new programs and equipment at high schools and colleges.

Bentley created a workforce council made up of 31 members from business and industry.

“That’s how business and industry and education work together, and that’s the way it should be,” he said.

Within the next two months, Bentley said, his administration will roll out a small business initiative that will pull all of the state’s resources for small businesses under a single umbrella.

“By far, the most important thing we can do is organize, and also create training and education for people of our state, and that’s what companies really look at,” he said.

Chatom Mayor Howard Crouch praised the state’s dual enrollment program and said 15 Washington County students had gotten two-year college degrees by the time they graduated from high school. He said one girl who showed up for a welding program with makeup and pretty clothes, and he recalled cautioning her that she might not find the program to her liking.

“She said to me, ‘I and my family have been poor all our lives. If you don’t give me the opportunity, we’re going to stay poor all our lives,'” he said. “She turned out to be the best welder we had.”

July 23, 2014

Brendan Kirby | By Brendan Kirby |

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