State workforce development officials on Wednesday released three proposed maps to redraw federal workforce investment areas. Under one of the draft proposals, Lexington would be designated its own federal workforce investment area.
The three options released by the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet include keeping the 10 current workforce investment area boundaries. The second option includes largely keeping the current districts the same but with a separate area for Fayette County and another carved out for Warren, Logan, Simpson and Allen counties.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and the elected officials in Warren, Logan, Simpson and Allen counties have requested separate workforce investment areas. Lexington officials have argued that a separate workforce investment area would help it meet its employers' and workers' needs. Fayette County currently belongs to the Bluegrass workforce investment area, a 17-county region.
A disparaging state audit of the Bluegrass Area Development District, the fiscal agent for the up to $11 million in federal workforce training dollars, has added to concerns about how those federal workforce dollars are handled.
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The third option released Wednesday includes three large workforce investment areas divided by region — central, east and west. Under that scenario, Fayette County would be included in the central region — the same workforce investment area as Jefferson County and other urban counties such as Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.
The three proposals were released less than a week before three public hearings to discuss the redrawing of the current workforce investment areas. The Central Kentucky hearing will be Feb. 4 in Frankfort at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The public comments will be from 3 to 5 p.m. The hearings also will include testimony from local officials and the current workforce investment board members.
Eight of the 10 current workforce investment districts are under the auspices of an area development district but are overseen by a workforce investment board. Several members of the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board resigned this week over frustrations and concerns with the Bluegrass ADD. Officials with the Bluegrass ADD have countered that they have tried to work with and address all of the board's concerns.
Kevin Atkins, Lexington's chief development officer, said Tuesday that he expects there to be a lot of discussion during the public hearing in Frankfort. Commerce Lexington, the city's chamber of commerce, has also backed Lexington's move to become a separate workforce investment area. The city has commissioned Commerce Lexington to do an analysis of current workforce needs. Some of that information has been given to state officials to bolster Lexington's case that a separate workforce investment area is needed, Atkins said.
The redrawing of the federal workforce investment areas is made possible by a change in the federal workforce law, which takes effect by July 1.
A lot of money is at stake. In total, the state receives $49.8 million in federal workforce training money. The money is doled out based on population, unemployment and poverty rates.
Cathy Lindsey, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development, said a final decision on the make-up of the federal workforce investment areas should be made by late March or early April.