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Feds come to town to hear about needs, offer help

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 12, 2010
— Luisa Verheijen asked the federal government for help Friday. She's not hopeful she'll get it.

Verheijen was at the Rock County Job Center, where she works, when President Obama's point man on helping communities stung by auto-plant closings came for a tour.


Ed Montgomery, executive director of the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, said he was impressed at how a wide variety of agencies come together at the Job Center to help displaced workers.


As reporters asked questions, Verheijen chimed in: "It's hard to start a business when, we know, the economy is suffering. What help is there for us?"


Montgomery responded: "If we want to solve the job crisis, we have to nurture and support our entrepreneurs."


The White House is working with Congress to lower taxes on small business and to provide incentives to hire workers, Montgomery added.


"But the banks are not giving any loans," Verheijen said.


"Credit is an issue," Montgomery agreed. "...We're trying to work to improve credit."


Verheijen was not satisfied. She said afterward that she has developed a product and wrote a business plan with the help of a UW-Whitewater program.


She even has a manufacturer ready to make her product, she said, but she doesn't have the money to invest.


"I'm not the only one. I speak for a lot of people that were in my class," she said, but she didn't hear what she wanted from Montgomery.


"Why don't you help entrepreneurs to create jobs … to give ourselves the pride back?" she said.


One of the local proposals presented later Friday might help people like Verheijen. It would create a revolving-loan fund for small businesses.


"Access to capital has become a major challenge to many small businesses," according to the written proposal obtained by the Gazette. "Business owners are strapped for cash and generally unable to provide the required injection of equity necessary to secure financing."


Local veterans employment representative Dale Belke was one person Montgomery stopped to chat with as he toured the Job Center, giving Belke a big "thank you for all you do."


Belke said afterward that the one thing he'd like to see is more opportunity for his clients and many non-veterans who would work, if they could.


"There's just no jobs," Belke said.


Montgomery and his team of representatives from federal agencies later heard specific proposals from Rock County leaders, including one to create 400 new jobs through wage subsidies.


Asked how fast the government might respond to the requests, Montgomery said "relatively quickly."


Montgomery noted the federal government has programs that match up with local needs, including job training, and funding for community colleges, mental health and adult literacy


"What we want to do is make sure we get those proposals to the agencies, work with them, make them fundable or to find the resources for them as quickly as possible," Montgomery said.


"Obviously, we're not going to be able to say, ‘Yes,' today," Montgomery said when asked whether all the proposals would be funded.


The proposals first need to be reviewed, Montgomery said, adding: "This is about hearing what's in those (proposals) and then figuring out how do we roll up our sleeves and make these proposals something that we can support."


Later at the UAW Hall, local presenters laid out their proposals.


Listening were people from federal agencies overseeing of labor, housing and urban development, transportation, health and human services, justice, environmental protection, small business, economic development and the science and technology.


Reporters were told to leave the meeting before the proposals were presented.


As reporters left, Rock County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni could be heard asking for speedy federal review of the environmental impact statement for a proposed expansion of Interstate 90/39 from four to six lanes.


Projects

A coalition of Rock County social-service agencies, governments and businesses on Friday proposed more than $40 million in projects as they met with federal officials. Each project comes with a three-year budget. Here's a taste of what those projects could do:


-- A "pipeline for college readiness" for children and adults that would improve literacy among students and train teen parents, high school dropouts, the disadvantaged dislocated workers and other low-income adults. Proposed by Blackhawk Technical College, UW-Rock County, Community Action, Wisconsin Literacy and Rock County school districts. Cost: $12 million.


-- Enhance services to small businesses and entrepreneurs suffering from the recession with a $5 million revolving loan fund and related services, including training and support, proposed by UW-Whitewater Small Business Development Center and Rock County-based economic development agencies. Cost: $6.07 million.


-- Funds to pay for mental-health counseling to augment existing financial-counseling programs that help homeowners avoid foreclosures or assist them as they go through foreclosure. Proposed by the Neighborhood Housing Services of Beloit, Community Action and Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Cost: $1.84 million.


-- A "comprehensive mental health initiative" that includes increased staff to deal with local K-12 students' needs in areas of mental health and drug abuse; emotional stress on families, including domestic violence; increase access to mental-health services; an economic-stress counseling initiative; and eliminate a seven-month wait for released jail inmates to see a therapist to reduce recidivism. Proposed by Rock County school districts, Rock County government and Family Services of Southern Wisconsin & Northern Illinois. Cost: $4.7 million.


-- "Construction TOOLS Program," targeting Beloit inner-city neighborhoods, to provide construction industry training and career and individual counseling so workers can gain skills needed to get family-sustaining wages in construction. Proposed by Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, Community Action of Rock & Walworth Counties, and Wisconsin Literacy Council. Cost: $2.63 million.


-- Subsidies to encourage the creation of private- and public-sector jobs and the expansion of small- and medium-size businesses through a subsidized employment program by providing employers an incentive to hire new workers. The goal is to create 400 full-time jobs averaging pay of $12 an hour in Rock County. Proposed by Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, Community Action of Rock & Walworth Counties and Rock County 5.0. Cost: $7.96 million.


-- Urban Agriculture and Food Security Initiative, to provide job skills to students and displaced workers by starting urban gardens that would yield prepackaged meals at a low cost to families. Proposed by the Janesville School District's TAGOS Leadership Academy and Rock County school districts. Cost: $1.92 million.


-- "Online Community Engagement Initiative" that would build an online hub to provide comprehensive, up-to-date, easy-to-use access to local services and programs that support dislocated workers while training the community in digital media and raising the digital literacy level of dislocated workers. Cost: $3.83 million.



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