Proposed work force board mergers draw fire

Mar. 13, 2013 @ 04:53 PM

Local leaders say a proposal to change the way work force development boards across the state deliver services would hamper a key economic development tool.
Resolutions in the N.C. General Assembly call for aligning the state’s 23 local work force development areas with the boundaries of councils of governments, or COGs. That would reduce the number of work force boards to 16 and would disband the boards that currently serve a single county, among them Guilford. The local board — which helps businesses locate, screen and train workers, and also oversees the JobLink Career Centers for job seekers in High Point and Greensboro — would become part of a 12-county conglomerate.
“I think a lot of the assumptions under which that resolution was generated need to be studied. Let’s not change something that’s working for the sake of change,” said Lillian Plummer, executive director of the local board, officially known as the Greensboro/High Point/Guilford County Workforce Development Board. “Part of what you can lose is the local touch that really makes the work force system important. We have a very strong connection with local employers and with economic developers that we think is very effective.”
The resolutions passed first readings last month and are now in state House and Senate committees.
A legislative oversight committee last year found that reducing the number of boards could increase the amount of federal funding they receive and that COGs across the state “already have an administrative structure in place to manage aging, transportation planning, Housing and Urban Development grants, and several other state and federal programs,” the resolution states.
The local board has a budget of about $3.5 million, most of which is federal dollars, Plummer said. Greensboro provides some funding and High Point bought a building on Idol Street a few years ago that the board leases from the city. It houses the board’s JobLink site and the High Point office of the N.C. Division of Employment Security.
The Greensboro City Council has adopted a resolution opposing the realignment and the High Point City Council has instructed city staff to prepare a similar measure.
Mayor Bernita Sims said it would be detrimental to High Point to lump the local board with the region’s COG, which is largely made up of rural communities that have little in common with cities.
“Our system works just fine,” Sims said. “This is just the beginning of what will be a continued push at taking services that have been centered in a county and pushing them out into a regional environment.”
Realignment also has drawn opposition from Davidson County leaders, who adopted a resolution opposing the disbanding of their single-county designation.
“Davidson County’s unemployment rate has remained in the double digits almost constantly since January 2009. How can Davidson County’s best interests be served if decisions about service planning, delivery and allocation of funds are made by a 12-county regional board?” Board of Commissioners Chairman Fred McClure wrote state lawmakers after the resolution was adopted.