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p01 housingNew single-family homes built along East Drive in East Alton. IBJ photo    A housing development that helped transform the core of East Alton could be greatly expanded under a plan being promoted to the state.
    Mayor Joe Silkwood and others traveled to Chicago in September to meet with officials of the Illinois Housing Development Authority to push their case for funding for the expansion of the Emerald Ridge area.
    The first phase of the $16 million Emerald Ridge project replaced much of the old defense housing area, a rundown neighborhood comprised of post-World War II homes built by the federal government for the munitions workers at the neighboring Olin Corp. plant.
    Dilapidated housing was razed in 2014, and 46, picturesque single-family homes were built in its place in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Drive, the 600 block of North Drive and the 300 and 400 blocks of Ohio Street.
    Wood River Avenue, a main north-south lateral through the village, is just east of the site, which surrounds a playground.
    The next phase, expected to be similar to the first in size, would be further to the north, basically an expansion of the project footprint, Silkwood said, although he hesitates to pinpoint exact streets.
    At the Chicago meeting with the mayor were representatives of the developer, Bywater Development Group of St. Louis, and of the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority, a partner in the proposal before the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
    Silkwood said the group discussed what could be done to improve the grant application, which last year made it to a second round but did not win funding. That proposal has been revised and will be resubmitted in November and officials should know sometime in the spring if East Alton is selected.
    At the same time, the village is pursuing “land banking” funds to try to reduce the overall costs. The money would be used to acquire properties as they become available. The money would be replenished in the land banking fund by selling to the developer once the project got going.
    “We’d probably try to apply for around $300,000,” the mayor said. “Ultimately, it should help us score better in the overall project.”
    Land banking money is available through a settlement fund in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
    Phase 2 would feature the same complex scenario of financing that Phase 1 featured, which was a mix of around a dozen sources of public and private money, mostly federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

    Madison and St. Clair County officials are working together on a $500,000 grant proposal that would help increase their market for apprenticeships.
    The plan comes in the wake of each of them being certified by the U.S. Department of Labor as a Registered Apprenticeship Program Intermediary Sponsor a few months ago. The designation allows the counties to work with local employers to help them hire and train people who will received occupational credentials from the Department of Labor upon completion of the apprenticeship program.
    Tony Fuhrmann, director of Madison County Employment and Training, said his office has been meeting with businesses and others to build the program.
    “We have several employers committing apprenticeship slots. We are working with a couple of additional education entities to provide the training. The intermediary (label) gives us the ability to work with local employers to set up standards for apprenticeships, what the requirements are, and the timeframes.”
    Previously, this would have to go through the Department of Labor, which funds the county department.
    “As an intermediary, we have the ability to do all that at a local level and it streamlines it,” Fuhrman said.
    The joint application is for an Apprenticeship Expansion grant funneled through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
    Fuhrman said Madison and St. Clair counties are “a little bit ahead of the curve,” because federal officials have expressed a commitment to having more preregistered intermediaries. St. Clair County became the state’s first Local Workforce Development Area to be certified.
    There are 26 Workforce Areas in Illinois. Madison and Bond county make up Area 22. St. Clair County is part of Area 24, comprised also of Washington, Clinton, Monroe and Randolph counties.
    “We’re trying to use that momentum to get this grant funding so we can actually do more promotion and marketing,” Fuhrmann said.
    A second piece of the grant involves hiring an apprenticeship navigator, “which would bring that person onto one of our staffs to work with businesses to try to put the pieces together for more apprenticeship programs. That would be their specific and full-time role,” he said.
    Fuhrman said he preferred to release more specifics on possible program participants until after a decision is made on the grant.
    “If it’s awarded it will become public knowledge. There is a manufacturing group we’re working with, a couple of employers, and in health care, an employer there as well,” he said.
    He did say that Lewis and Clark Community College is involved in the efforts.
    The grant decision is likely to be made before the end of the year.
    “They’re pretty aggressive on apprenticeship programs. That’s the buzzword from the White House. They’re big on apprenticeships and it’s being driven that way,” Fuhrmann said.
    Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, visited Lewis and Clark College last month as part of a Midwest swing promoting workforce development programs. The event was to help promote the president’s Council for the American Worker.
    The U.S. Congress and the president’s administration are working to improve both private and public workforce training opportunities.
    Fuhrmann said there the skills gap is so big because it’s been allowed to build over time.
    “Manufacturing went down for so many years, nobody went into it. Now those people in the manufacturing areas are getting ready to retire. There is no backfill currently. Part of the issue is, at the high schools a lot of the voc-ed programs got funding cut out. There is a bigger emphasis on college prep at a lot of high schools. There is no pipeline there.”
    An initiative driven by Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, called Manufacture Your Future/Craft Your Future, has been addressing the issue the last couple of years.
    “There has been a big push in this area to get in front of junior high and high school kids and their parents to encourage their careers,” Fuhrman said.
    Madison County Employment and Training also is active in career fairs. October is Manufacturer’s Month in Illinois, and a big manufacturer’s day is set Oct. 12 at Southwestern Illinois College in Granite City.
    “This year, they’re looking at 1,200 high school kids being there,” Fuhrmann said
    Part of the biggest problem with young people’s aspiration is their parents, he said.
    “When they think manufacturing, they think back to the place Grandpa was — the dirty, grungy, hard work. Nowadays, a lot of it is computer guided — it’s a different world.  I don’t think kids realize that.”
    The apprenticeship grant application is one of a few things that Madison County is working on with St. Clair County.
    “It just makes sense,” Fuhrmann said. “The issues we have are similar, the people we deal with are similar.”

    Trained workers are difficult to come by, and the situation is putting a county program through the paces as it helps businesses search for solutions.
    Madison County Employment and Training Department, whose role long was targeted to the individual worker, is increasingly finding itself dealing more directly with the employer, said Tony Fuhrmann, the department director.
    Now, it’s a matter of “how do we train people to meet the needs of businesses, as opposed to previous times, when it was, ‘How do we train these people’,” he said.
    The demand for more skilled workers and the trades prompted the county to beef up customized training programs for new and existing employees.
    “The businesses in Madison County are seeking a trained, skilled workforce to help meet their production needs and performance goals,” he said. “Our role is assisting those businesses in finding, developing and retaining that workforce.”
    Worker recruitment, applicant assessment, job postings, job fairs and other specialized training programs are offered.
    In the past year, Employment and Training, partnered with Phillip’s 66 Refinery and U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works to provide applicant assessment. The department tested at its Wood River office as well as onsite at the plants in Roxana and Granite City.
    “The department assessed more than 900 individuals for both these companies,” Fuhrmann said.
    The funding is provided through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
    Employment and Training partners with local community colleges, technical schools, universities, and other training providers to build the talent pipeline for area businesses.
    Sarah Lorio, the county’s work-based learning coordinator, said three specialized training programs help businesses with funds to train or retain their workforce:
    - On-the-Job Training helps companies save on hiring and training costs.
    - Registered apprenticeships provide a pipeline of skilled workers with industry-specific training and hands-on experience. The programs are customizable to match an employer’s need and highly flexible in order to meet an employer’s changing requirements.
    - An Incumbent Worker Training Program helps businesses train and retain employees by working on skills upgrades and improving the processes involved.
    “We’ve been working with several companies on incumbent worker training projects, to train their existing workforce so they are more competitive in the market,” Fuhrman said.
    The goal is that the employees who go through the training will be less likely to be laid off, should help increase a company’s capacity, and enable the company to get more contracts, which in turn means more employees can be hired and existing, trained employees can advance up the ladder.
    Companies and the county are finding each other.
    “Sometimes, companies come to us because they need people and we talk about recruitment assistance that we can provide through the office,” Lorio said. “That gets into a conversation about what’s going on with the business and anything we have that might match up with their needs. Sometimes it’s worker training, sometimes it’s on the job training for new employees.”


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Race celebrates most successful event to date with more than 1,300 participants and $30,000 raised for the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

    Alton, Ill. (Oct. 10, 2018) When Washington State resident Diana Stewart crossed the finish line during the 10th Annual Miles for Meso 5K in Alton, Illinois, it was quite the accomplishment. Not only did it mean she finished the challenging course through the hills of Downtown Alton, it meant she had continued to keep a promise made to her late husband several years ago.