Jobs are critical to Lexington and Fayette County.
Not only do they provide livelihood and meaning to our residents, they fund our government, which relies heavily on payroll taxes.
Tuesday afternoon members of the Urban County Council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee heard presentations from two city-subsidized jobs initiatives: CommerceLexington and the city’s workforce development grants program.
Each is essential, and council must demand the same level of accountability from both programs.
CommerceLexington pursues a mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” with the $457,000 it receives each year in the city budget. The $300,000 in workforce development grants — a fairly new program — are aimed at identifying people who need jobs and helping them find and qualify for existing vacancies.
CommerceLexington’s Gina Greathouse ran through a presentation that, while long and data-filled, left many questions unanswered. With little success, council members asked for more specific information on actual wages for jobs recruited and the strategic focus of the efforts.
When council member Jennifer Mossotti pointed out that “help wanted” signs are common in our area, suggesting there are jobs but that many of our un- or underemployed citizens can’t connect to or don’t qualify for them, Greathouse said her organization doesn’t deal with retail (although her own slide showed it as accounting for 10 percent of the region’s employees).
Elodie Dickinson, the program director for the workforce grants, presented a much clearer program vision and approach to accountability.
Dickinson explained that agencies apply for the funds and are scored by a committee on measures that include workforce need, impact and evidence of success. Applicants must set out the cost per participant served and whether their incomes will increase through the program. Once selected, participating organizations report quarterly on their work and results and receive regular audit visits from Dickinson.
The programs selected for the coming biennium will prepare Fayette County residents to work in the food sector, qualify as child-care workers and certified nurse’s aides; some will earn commercial driver’s licenses, pass the fiber optic technician exam, and/or qualify to work in building trades such as plumbing, HVAC, electric, carpentry and property maintenance. One award, $17,500 to Community Ventures, aims at supporting entrepreneurial women in starting or expanding businesses.
These are not the jobs that will generate headlines or ribbon-cutting photo ops. But they are a path to self-sufficiency for the too-large portion of Fayette County’s citizens who live in or near poverty. The council must keep a sharp eye on what’s working and what’s not, and assure that it’s getting the information it needs to make that evaluation.
By the same token, the council should work on devising a set of reporting requirements for CommerceLexington that will make it clear what the city’s return is on its significant investment.