When the Harpers furniture manufacturer moved to Post Falls, the state of Idaho contributed $150,000 toward a worker training program.
But state Commerce Director Jim Hawkins said if the Legislature hadn’t been in session at the time, he might not have been able to get the money. As it was, he had to go in and plead for it.
Now, Gov. Phil Batt is proposing a new fund for work-force training in Idaho, to be available for just such projects.
“The governor is very much out in front on this,” Hawkins said, and wants to see “a trained and available work force.”
Roger Madsen, director of the state Employment Department, is drafting legislation at Batt’s request and will present it to Batt next week.
Here’s the plan: The unemployment insurance tax is going up in the coming year, thanks to a schedule that automatically bumps it up when wages grow and reserves are depleted.
Though details still are being worked out, the legislation likely would divert one-eighth of the increase - about $2.6 million of an approximately $21 million increase - into a “Workforce Development Training Fund.”
That fund could be tapped for worker training that’s needed when an Idaho business expands or changes, or when an out-of-state business moves into the state.
Hawkins said he could apply for funds immediately, and is working both with in-state companies that are expanding and out-of-state firms that want to come to Idaho.
State vocational schools and community colleges would provide the training, using the money from the fund along with contributions from the companies.
“The community colleges in the state are doing a marvelous job,” Madsen said. “They’re very agile and quick to respond. They have excellent administration and staff that can customize training for these companies.”
With the Harpers relocation, the company provided more than $1 million worth of equipment and materials for the worker training program, Hawkins said. The state of Washington kicked in another $400,000. North Idaho College ran the Idaho end of the program, and Spokane’s community colleges ran the Washington end.
Madsen said the unemployment tax increase is effective Jan. 1, but the taxes aren’t due until the end of the first quarter of 1996.
He’s run the proposal by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and other business groups to generally good reviews.
Idaho’s business climate is strong, Batt said, but the state is lacking in worker training that can help businesses decide to locate here.
With a new fund, he said, “Idaho will have another major tool in attracting high-paying jobs to our state.”
Batt is expected to formally propose the plan in his State of the State address Jan. 8.
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