Central Valley receives $23 million grant


Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune

Fresno County Economic Development Coporation President/CEO Lee Ann Eager talks about how her team was able to secure a $23 million grant to help people find jobs in Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties at a press conference last Thursday.

 

FRESNO — in an unprecedented agreement, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties joined forces with the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation to apply for a federal grant in the Good Jobs Challenge and was one of 32 to receive a $23 million grant of the more than 600 applicants.


“We started getting people together and thought about what had been missing in Central California,” said Le Ann Eager, President/CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation that created the Central Valley Built 4 Scale program. “The number four kept coming up over and over again. We looked at our four counties that we worked together so closely. Instead of competing against each other, we’re stronger together. Let’s find a way to get the people in the Central Valley to get trained for the jobs we want to bring in here.”


The grant will provide 2,500 high quality jobs to more than 50 businesses who have committed more than 900 jobs to the applicants.


“We needed to diversify our jobs training,” Eager said. “What we want to be, and we know we can be, is the star of California. That star is in the center of Central California. We looked at four industries and we need to build up these industries. We need to make sure the companies that do manufacturing, construction, transportation, business services never will they get to say we don’t have the workforce for it. We wrote the grant with that in mind. We looked at what the federal government wanted and we answered it together.”


Former Madera High School graduate Will Oliver was also instrumental in writing the grant and getting the funding from the grant.


“We’re accustomed to working with the Economic Development Administration on road, water, sewer projects to help job growth. This was an unprecedented grant opportunity made available through the American Rescue Plan that allowed economic development organizations and workforce agencies to really dream and design without any conditions,” he said. “As a result, you have an unprecedented collaboration between Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. You have an unprecedented network of workforce development boards, EDCs, community action agencies, and, more importantly, you have an historic collaboration between community benefit organizations who have long wanted to get into workforce development. This was an opportunity to do so. During the process, we realized they have tremendous competency that is local. Our goal is to activate those people to make them a part of the workforce to upscale and train our works for jobs in the future.”


Eager said the grant will help find workers in fields that are on the rise in different industries.


“The state is putting billions of dollars into transportation with infrastructure, let’s make sure we have people trained for that sector,” she said at a press conference last Thursday in Fresno. “When the high-speed rail is done, we want to make sure people can work those fields. We want to make sure people that want to work at CalTrans are trained for it. We’re going to continue what we need to do to go forward.”


What makes the grant even more interesting is that the four counties — Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings — worked together to get the grant done.


“This is unprecedented for the four counties to work together,” said Congressman Jim Costa. “Good things happen when good people work together. It’s important to note these are difficult times. We’re not out of the woods, yet. We have passed unprecedented legislation.


“Thousands and thousands of workers will get good paying jobs that will provide financial services, manufacturing, transportation industries and develop apprenticeship programs. Twenty-three million dollars is a big deal. It’s jobs. It’s not just jobs, but good paying jobs that take into account the talented people we have in the Valley, the talented people at our schools and colleges working together for larger efforts.”


Costa iterated that this will not only help boost morale and the attitudes of the working class, but will also help boost the economy.


“Jobs, jobs, jobs, that’s how you raise the economy,” he said. “We have the workforce here. We have to ensure we give them the proper tools to fill those jobs. There is a tremendous need.”


Madera County Assessor and former Supervisor Brett Frazier also spoke of how important job training is, especially being a small business owner.


“All of our people that live in the four county region don’t know about county lines,” he said. “They go where the work is. This is what happens when good people come together for the betterment of everybody. Usually $23 million is to build something like infrastructure. If you think about it, what more infrastructure do we have than our people. That’s what makes the Central Valley so special is the people that are here.”


Not only will the grant help workers train for jobs, but Oliver said the grant was written so that they will get support along the way.


“What they are going to receive is an advisor at the beginning to work with them, understand their needs, know their skills to meet them where they are in their experiences and interests,” he said. “We will also provide wraparound support, whether it be childcare or transportation. We’re going to endeavor these people once they have gone through a training program, not only to be placed, but to follow up with them to make sure the job is suitable for them.”


Another reason Oliver believes they received the grant is because of the commitments from more than 50 companies to help provide jobs from the training.


“Getting the companies involved was a large criteria for the grant to make sure we had employer support,” he said. “We were able to organize more than 50 employers throughout the region who committed more than 1,000 jobs for people in this program. That was critical to make sure we had a competitive footing. It’s also important to make sure the industry has ownership of these programs and they are working alongside us to design and implement our trainings at a point of business or at CTEC High School. Industry involvement is key to make this program successful.”


Basically, local workforce agencies will identify individuals that will benefit from the program and send them to the Built 4 Scale program.


“What we’ve sketched out in our goal is to empower community benefit organizations,” Oliver said. “They already have their foot in the door and have access to their constituencies. We want them to work with potential job seekers, inventory their skill sets, their interests, their needs, their availability and the barriers that might be there to keep them from pursuing employment. We’re going to make a pathway for each job seeker. We want to provide a full variety of pathways for individuals.”


They will build upon the work of local workforce agencies like the Madera Workforce Board.


“They are already doing great work,” Oliver said. “We’re going to simply add additional capacity. We’re going to design and implement new programs needed in Madera, as well as Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.”


Oliver, who is the Vice President of Business Services for the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, was the main grant write.


“I lead our special projects and strategic initiatives,” he said. “In my role, I have my foot in the ground with an eye at the future to try to design programs for our future workforce and employers.”


Oliver said it took about a year to work on this grant, and out of 600 applicants, only 32 received a grant (just 5 percent of applicants).


“It’s pretty overwhelming and mind-blowing,” he said. “At the same time, it’s validating the efforts and hard work that have gone into our Central Valley communities for so long. It’s great to see us get elevated. We’re not getting crumbs. We’re getting meat on the bone and it’s required to move the needle in each of our respective communities. The fact that they were able to double-down on our creativity, on thinking about workforce and economic development differently with innovation at the center, and with equity and inclusion at the core, that was so validating and reaffirming. Hopefully, now this is the future.”