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U.S. Deptartment of Labor Assistant Secretary Emily DeRocco speaks at a work-force development conference at Calhoun Community College on Thursday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
U.S. Deptartment of Labor Assistant Secretary Emily DeRocco speaks at a work-force development conference at Calhoun Community College on Thursday.

$5 million grant helps Calhoun program
Money strengthens school's
role as area work-force leader

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

Calhoun Community College's lead role in a regional workforce development program just became more manageable after the college received a $5 million grant.

The grant came on the eve of a work-force development conference that Calhoun hosted Thursday.

Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary for employment and training at the U.S. Department of Labor, congratulated the region on its efforts in advance of federal funding.

"You received some tools from us, some ideas ... but you did it without an investment from the Department of Labor," DeRocco said. "That's changed."

The funding is tied to the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development initiative, WIRED, which takes a regional approach to developing a labor force able to help U.S. companies compete globally.

College is lead organization

Calhoun is the lead organization in the initiative in Alabama/Tennessee, which includes 20 counties in the Tennessee Valley. The nation has 26 regions.

Globalization has changed what America must do to continue its economic success, DeRocco said.

"U.S. companies can compete and succeed in a global economy by focusing on innovation. Only a free and open society with educated and skilled workers can drive innovation," DeRocco said.

"We do not have the work force right in this vicinity that we will need," said Mary Yarbrough, Calhoun's dean of work-force education and technologies.

A key concept of the program is that existing economic and work-force development organizations need to come together.

Tim Alford, director of the state Office of Workforce Development, said the strategic plan requires a study of existing industry and acknowledgment of foreign competition.

"Cheap land and cheap, unskilled labor, is a bankrupt economic policy," Alford said. "Not only is there cheaper land and cheaper unskilled labor elsewhere in the world, now there is cheaper skilled labor out there, too."

The $5 million grant is in two parts. Immediately available is $500,000. Another $4.5 million, payable over three years, comes only after creation of a "regional implementation blueprint."

Jim Hudson, founder of Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, said the regional philosophy of the initiative dovetails with his needs.

"We won't be able to get employees for our needs without that," Hudson said.

He said his institute plans to take some programming to area schools to help create a pool of future employees.

"Old fashioned education is important," Hudson said. "Without math skills, it's hard to do science."

Hudson said the institute, already under construction, should open in eight months.

He also supported the idea of a paid regional director.

"You need someone who owns it," he said, "who wakes up every morning thinking about its needs."

Col. John Olshefski, garrison commander at Redstone Arsenal, said the Base Realignment and Closure process will bring hundreds of engineers to Redstone. He won't be able to attract those engineers, he said, without multiple opportunities for advanced degrees.

He said The University of Alabama at Huntsville is considering a facility near Gate 9, off Interstate 565, that would offer a master's program.

Olshefski said the BRAC influx will add $800 million a year to Redstone's payroll, but he expressed concerns that developments in Iraq will delay some of the BRAC moves until after the statutory 2011 deadline.

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