Grand commits $60,000 to workforce center |

Grand commits $60,000 to workforce center

Grand County has committed $60,000 to back a workforce development center with the hope to improve economic diversity.

The Wireless Research Center, a nonprofit focused on “technosocial” solutions for communities, first presented the Grand County Economic Digital Resiliency Program to commissioners in early June. The program is a three-pronged approach that includes open access broadband, a ForestTech Center and Digital Workforce Development Center.

The Workforce Development Center was the focus during dicussions last week. It would offer Grand County residents digital worker development courses for free, along with physical locations for telecommuters to gather in Winter Park, Granby and Kremmling.

As envisioned, the Workforce Development Center would also create opportunities for existing businesses to expand their digital acumen.

Representatives of the Wireless Research Center explained to commissioners that nationwide trends are pointing to a more digitally-based workforce following the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing skills gap for technology-based jobs, making it the perfect time for this endeavor.

The Workforce Development Center representatives project that, with the help of Grand County’s investment, the center could in 10 years help create 54 new businesses, 751 new digital workers and increase the county workforce by 12%.

According to the proposal, the first year of the program hopes to train 500 people in technology based fields and create 150 new digital remote jobs.

Income for the positions filled by the center could range from $30,000 to more than $120,000, according to their proposal. With more than 80% of jobs in Grand County directly or indirectly reliant on the tourism industry, a big appeal of the Center is diversifying Grand’s economy.

“This is really an economic development partnership with the WRC with the goal of helping to diversify our economy and workforce here in Grand County,” County Manager Ed Moyer said.

The $60,000 requested from the county was cut drastically from the initial $250,000 ask, and commissioners found the reduced number easier to support. However, county staff still had some hesitancy about the proposal.

“This proposal is uncharted territory for Grand County,” Moyer said. “We haven’t done this before … There is no guarantee. We only have what’s in this proposal and their commitment to Grand County and our community to stand this thing up.”

The county will bill the program as a standard services contract, so there can be a level of accountability. Even so, Commissioner Kris Manguso felt the county shouldn’t fund this proposal.

“While I do think this is a good idea and I do hope it works, I think it should go through the Grand Foundation like every other nonprofit,” Manguso said. “I think we’re breaking protocol with this. I think this a bad precedent, and I don’t think taxpayer dollars should pump directly into a private startup such as this.”

Commissioners voted 2-1 to grant the Workforce Development Center $60,000 with Manguso dissenting.

“It’s not going to solve the housing problem,” Commissioner Merrit Linke said. “It’s not going to solve all those different problems. It’s not. But it is going to be a start toward getting some diversity in Grand County and I applaud the effort.”

Along with Grand County’s $60,000, the center hopes to secure another $25,000 from the towns in Grand. The group has also received nearly $300,000 of in-kind funding. Using those dollars, the plan is to leverage a $500,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration.

The goal is for the center to become self sufficient within 18 months through fees on memberships, sourcing contracts and on optional health care plans available to their digital workers.

Representatives for the Wireless Research Center added that they could be coming back with a request for the ForestTech Center later this year.

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