Community leaders with an interest in education and economic development met with Congressman Dave Loebsack Monday afternoon to discuss the training of our future workforce and what can be done to attract and maintain jobs in Southeast Iowa.
The Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation is making strides to develop a broadband infrastructure that will put Ottumwa on the cutting edge of technology and job growth, as well as beginning to attract companies in laser optics and advanced technology to the area.
The congressman agreed that both areas are crucial to developing a skilled workforce in Southeast Iowa - and keeping them here - and that it takes the cooperation of the federal government to make these goals happen.
"Folks here locally have been working so hard together, they've put a lot of their own skin into the game, so to speak, they've put resources into this," Congressman Loebsack said. "A heck of a lot of work, a lot of human capital has gone into thinking about Ottumwa, Wapello County and the region for that matter. That's really important, I have to take that back to Washington D.C. with me and do what I can to make sure that those resources are at the federal level so we can partner with folks at the local level."
Also discussed Monday afternoon was Job Corps and the suspension enrollment that has been in effect since January 28. Five staff members have been laid off at the Ottumwa center already, and if these cuts continue, around 20,000 students nationwide would not be eligible to receive the type of education and training Job Corps centers offer.
"What's happening with Job Corps here is, unfortunately, what's happening in Washington D.C., first a stalemate, and second, across the board cuts that don't make any distinction between programs," Congressman Loebsack said. "Job Corps is a program that works, it's been proven to work, it provides opportunities for those folks [ages] 16-24 who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, who come from backgrounds like I did growing up in Sioux City and it really provides opportunity for those who are willing to take personal responsibility for themselves, get the education they need to get those good jobs. So I'm a strong supporter of Job Corps, we shouldn't be cutting back on that, in fact we should be investing in it."
Congressman Loebsack also addressed the SKILLS Act, which was recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The act is aimed at providing a comprehensive job training program to get people back to work. However, Congressman Loebsack voted against it, saying it turns funding control over to the state and attempts to scale back programs like Job Corps that have been proven to work.
"It doesn't put the resources where the need to be put," he said. "And really, it's all about making certain there are resources available for folks, as I said, who are willing to take the personal responsibility to pull themselves up by their boot straps, get the education they need and training they need to become effective members of the middle class."