Here on the High Desert in Central Oregon, unemployment is at a staggering 16-18%. Oregon has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the nation. With the boom and explosive growth the area experienced in the early 2000s, things have dried so fast that the local school district experienced a lower enrollment of students for the first time in 28 years.
So, what is the positive news here?
For residents in Central Oregon, they hope that an application for a $4 million federal stimulus grant will lead to development of a program to help them recruit and train for green jobs. According to Wendy Schechter, chair of the Central Oregon Workforce Coordinating Council:
“This particular grant is for those who are unemployed, have a low income, are coming out of jails or prison, (or) returning veterans.”
The stimulus grant would pay for two years of specialized training, including accelerated tutoring where necessary. Importantly, Central Oregon Community College (COCC) would provide instruction for key green jobs skills from installing solar panels to working through an energy audit.
This truly is some good information, considering the fact that many of the people that lost their jobs were in the construction industry. Building has come to a screeching halt here. Yet, related work in the industry is a perfect way to take an appropriate workforce into the green jobs arena.
A number of Central Oregon businesses and agencies have stated that they will support the green jobs grant. And fingers are certainly crossed here…. the winners will be announced in January 2010.
Here are some some fast facts:
- 10% of the grant will cover participants’ basic needs, including childcare and transportation
- The U.S. Department of Labor is funding the grant
- Average wages for green jobs in Oregon are $22.61/hour
- With more than 51,400 green jobs in Oregon in 2008, this number is expected to continue to rise
- At the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, unemployment is near 70% (no, that is not a typo)
Although there will likely be more people that qualify than can take part in the program, the news that we are most excited to convey is that Central Oregon is probably positioned very well for the stimulus grant. Because Oregon is one of the most distressed states in the nation when it comes to unemployment, and given the fact that the state has been a leader with respect to renewable energy and green jobs, employers and potential employees alike are waiting to hear whether training and education to will be funded with grant dollars.
If that is to happen, it will be very good news for both the economy and environment alike!