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Communities Finding Labor Asset in Displaced Workers

After suffering mass layoffs, locations are leveraging their displaced labor pools to entice new businesses to set up shop.

2011 Directory
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A few miles away in Fort Wayne, truck manufacturer Navistar will close its facility within three years as part of a consolidation, laying off about 1,000 workers. Fort Wayne is leveraging this displaced group of highly skilled workers as an asset to attract new business opportunities. With backgrounds in mechanical, electrical, and fatigue engineering, and other technical skills, this labor pool can accommodate technical positions in industries such as automotive, defense, aerospace, renewable energy, and medical device manufacturing.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is working with Fort Wayne to implement a targeted outreach strategy to identify Fortune 500 companies with design, research, and engineering requirements, as well as Midwestern and national contract engineering and design firms.

"While we are still determined to show Navistar that Fort Wayne is a place where the company can build for the future, we are more determined than ever to retain Navistar's highly skilled employees," says Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry. "It is our mission to show them that there are opportunities for them right here, should they choose to stay. They are an exceptional community asset. We are united in our fight for good jobs and our talented work force."

The city is pursuing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) funds from the Trade Act Program, a federal initiative that helps retrain employees who are displaced due to foreign or import competition. If approved, Navistar workers could qualify for at least 130 weeks of TAA training assistance and income support.

Meanwhile, Fort Wayne and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership are targeting industries that utilize technical, research, and design personnel. They are also networking with national and international site selection consultants and business relocation specialists to identify possible clients with interest in the city's work force.

"Our talented, ready work force is an unparalleled community asset," Henry says. "Each individual is a resource who adds value to our area and strengthens it. This initiative will use our pool of exceptional workers as a magnet to attract new jobs and economic opportunity into our region."

On the West Coast, California, though hit hard by the recession, is still the land of opportunity for businesses seeking existing skilled workers in manufacturing, as well as sectors including the financial industry and customer service.

In Sacramento, several call center closures over the past five years have resulted in the elimination of thousands of positions. Now the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) is working to attract companies that need those workers' skills and experience by marketing the available labor pool, says Terri Carpenter, SETA public information officer. The city's efforts are paying off. Advanced Call Centers Technologies has already located in Sacramento, moving into a vacant call center facility and hiring 75 specialists to start its operations.

"We also have several companies who are waiting in the wings, holding off on siting, hiring, and ramping up until the economy has stabilized a bit more," Carpenter says.

Training for the Future
Cities that lack ready-to-go work forces suited to a particular industry are using federal and state funds to create clusters. "Employers now have access to training programs and funds for new job openings," Canup says. "Federal stimulus money funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are providing employee education in selected fields that demonstrate job growth. Many states continue to fund their state training programs for new and expanding industries, which help give the unemployed skill sets for new jobs."

These ARRA dollars fund training programs that teach unemployed workers the skills they need to work in specific industries, especially advanced manufacturing and green technologies.

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