State workforce development boards will get a boost in funding their economic development needs thanks to $375,000 in Next Generation Industry Partnership seed grants awarded to these organizations.
The governor’s office said these grants support the launch of partnerships or transition existing industry partnerships to the Next Generation Sector Partnership model.
The partnerships build on state resources by combining the economic development concept of cluster partnerships that respond to the needs of industry, with workforce development focusing on the training needs of the targeted industry.
The workforce boards that will receive these grants include:
· Berks County Workforce Development Board, which will receive $25,000 to focus on advanced manufacturing.
· Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, $50,000 for advanced manufacturing, logistics and transportation.
· Pocono Counties Workforce Development Board, $25,000 for advanced manufacturing in Carbon, Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties.
The Next Generation grant is a planning grant to determine the industry needs, said Dan Fogarty, director of Berks County Workforce Development Board. His organization is the fiscal agent that will distribute the funds to the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, he said.
The workforce group will collaborate with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, which plans to use the funds to identify needs and pull together the two organizations to achieve that goal.
Fogarty said his workforce development board has managed an industry partnership that has focused primarily on incumbent worker training.
“Manufacturing remains Berks County’s No. 1 economic sector,” Fogarty said. “We’ve retained a lot of manufacturing jobs. It still accounts for 18 percent of employment in Berks County.”
But that workforce is aging, and manufacturers have added a lot of new technology to their plants, he said.
“Last year, our industry partnerships distributed $140,000 in matching funds for training,” Fogarty said.
For the past 12 years, the Berks County Workforce Board has run successful partnerships. This year, the state asked the workforce groups to look at their needs more broadly, he said.
Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said this is a new take on an old model.
“It’s really about putting the businesses at the head of the table in order to really work on solving these challenges,” Peers said. “For us, it really made sense to apply for a manufacturing Next Gen grant.”
Manufacturing is such a large sector in Berks County that only health care surpasses it in employment.
The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance has more than 300 manufacturers as members, and all of them could participate in these discussions, he added.
“At the end of the day, we need to ensure we are supporting our manufacturers,” Peers said. “That’s going to help them grow and stay in Berks County.”