Lander Offering Special New Tuition Rates for Public Agency and Nonprofit Employees

Lander University is offering a special new tuition rate for public agency and non-profit employees.

Lander is offering online undergraduate classes at $290 per credit hour and graduate program classes at $360 per credit hour.

The new rates begin for Fall 2022 classes. To qualify, employees of public agencies and nonprofits must be at least part-time employees and able to document consistent work history with employer for six months prior to enrollment at Lander.

Rate is available to volunteer fire/EMS personnel with documentation of six months of service prior to enrollment. See Lander website for full requirements and qualifications.

Lloyd Willis, Interim Dean of the College of Graduate and Online Studies, will take any questions at lwillis@lander.edu or 864-388-8424.

Upper Savannah Assists Laurens School District with Funding for Virus Cleansing Air Purifiers

Laurens County School District 55 is among several entities which are benefiting from Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funding with Upper Savannah COG staff’s assistance.

The CDBG-CV funding is used to help prevent, prepare for, or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

USCOG applied for and was awarded CDBG-CV funds for five projects, including air purifiers for the 10 schools in Laurens County School District 55. Upper Savannah Economic Recovery Specialist Cason Wright assisted the recipients and submitted the applications.

The air purifiers are cleansing the air in the school buildings, helping to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses, allowing for students to stay healthy and continue learning by face-to-face instruction.

District 55 was delivered a check for $161,236.65 from the CDBG-CV program on April 26 to fund the project. Pictured are Wright (left) and District 55 Director of Federal Programs, Accountability, and Professional Development Dr. Anna Brink.

“Laurens 55 is committed to providing the safest environment possible for students. The decision to focus on air quality is one that is grounded in research and the nature of most viruses that travel airborne,” Brink said.

The funding was utilized to purchase stand-alone, or portable, systems that clean larger spaces and areas that share a common conditioning system, Brink said. These systems were placed in each of the schools. The research on the devices was proven to reduce up to 99.9 percent of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in the air within three minutes and shown to reduce over 99.9 percent of many common contaminants in the air and on surfaces, she added.

“We have seen a drastic reduction in the number of cases across the district which cannot solely be based on the implementation of these devices. However, we do believe that they have helped prevent the spread from being greater,” Brink said.

With fewer virus cases, there is more in-school instruction which benefits students and teachers.

“Face-to-face instruction is the method that is most impactful for the majority of learners,” Brink said. “As a district, we are also very cognizant that face-to-face instruction is the method that is most feasible for the majority of families.

“We realize that our campuses provide safe places for students to spend their days, master critical skills, and grow as well-rounded individuals. We recognize that there are countless benefits to students participating in on-campus learning,” Brink added.

Other CDBG-CV projects that have been awarded with USCOG’s assistance include home-delivered meals for seniors ($390,000) who attend group dining facilities in the Upper Savannah Region, a public transit contract for Saluda County ($50,000) that focuses on medical, pharmacy and other essential transportation, HVAC upgrade and UVC air filtration installation at the City of Abbeville Civic Center ($65,400), and UVC air filtration installation at the Abbeville Opera House in the City of Abbeville ($21,500).

Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging Helping Sponsor Senior Health & Wellness Fair May 10

Approximately 45 resource booths will be available at a free Senior Health & Wellness Fair from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10, at the Greenwood Family YMCA.

Medical information, wellness tests, free resources, health demonstrations and more will be featured at the event sponsored by the Greenwood YMCA and the Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging (AAA).

The Abbeville Area Medical Center will be at the event administering COVID-19 vaccine shots and booster shots. The Abbeville Hospital will also conduct blood pressure screenings and foot tests.

Self Regional Healthcare will have a program on chest pains, strokes, heart attacks, how to identify them and what to do in case someone has symptoms. Self will also have a program on how to live your best life with cancer.

There will be no solicitation at the fair, said Brenda Minor from the Upper Savannah AAA staff who has helped spearhead organization of the event.

Seniors can ask questions, get business cards and contact agencies if they so choose. No one will be soliciting information from the seniors.

The 45-plus resource booths will include the Upper Savannah AAA, Greenwood YMCA, Department of Health and Human Services, Community Long-Term Care, GLEAMNS, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, senior centers, home health services, adult daycares, the Greenwood Soup Kitchen, the Food Bank of Greenwood County, United Way of the Lakelands, the Greater Greenwood United Ministries, Silver Sneakers, funeral homes, a mental health facility, Veteran’s Administration, senior apartments, credit union, Alzheimer’s Association and Parkinson’s Association. Representatives from U.S. Senator Tim Scott and State Rep. Jeff Duncan’s offices will also be providing information.

There will be various demonstrations including fall prevention exercises, arthritis relief and line dancing.

Minor said the event is coming at a good time with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions easing.

“Three things that the AAA wants for the seniors is for them to be able to get out and socialize again,” Minor said, “we wanted them to know every resource available for their needs, and we want them to feel safe from solicitors and scammers.”

Edgefield Senior Citizens Council will have a Senior Day for their members only on May 12 and more senior health and wellness fairs will be planned for other counties across the Upper Savannah region.

USCOG Transportation Workshop Informs About SCDOT Programs, Provides Project Updates

Those who attended the Upper Savannah Regional Transportation Workshop learned about the many programs within the S.C. Department of Transportation while receiving updates on current and upcoming road and bridge projects in the Region.

The workshop was organized by Upper Savannah COG and hosted by Piedmont Technical College. More than 40 attended the workshop held on April 20.

Eight speakers from SCDOT talked about their programs or gave updates on road and bridge projects.

SCDOT Deputy Secretary for Intermodal Planning Brent Rewis opened the workshop, pointing out that South Carolina has the fourth largest state-maintained system of highways in the country and that South Carolina has the 10th fastest population growth rate.

Ten-Year Plan Update

The Roads Bill passed by the S.C. General Assembly in 2017 included a gradual yearly gas tax increase that initiated and is helping fund SCDOT’s 10-Year Plan to improve the state’s roads and bridges.

The updated goals of the Plan include doubling the previous pace of resurfacing roads, replacing 500 bridges, improving 140 miles of interstate highways, and adding 1,250 miles of safety features on rural roads.

Rewis told the group that 5,500 miles of roads have been resurfaced, 224 bridges have been completed or are being worked on, 80 miles of interstate highways have been widened, and 713 miles of rural roads have been improved so far. Approximately $3.7 billion in projects are currently under contract, he said.

Now, an additional $250-$300 million in federal funding has been added to help South Carolina incorporate more projects to deal with growth and economic development needs. These funds represent a 30 percent increase over last year and are still subject to the same federal spending rules and regulations.

SCDOT Director of Planning Machael Peterson discussed the planning process for improving roads and bridges that include a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) prepared by each COG region, including Upper Savannah’s 2021-2027 TIP, and the overall State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).

“We are selecting projects based on needs,” Peterson said. “Why are we doing this project? What is the purpose of this project? What are we trying to solve with this project?”

SCDOT Statewide Planning Chief Christina Lewis reviewed the Complete Streets program which involves shared mobility including vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and transit riders.

Highway Safety

SCDOT Highway Safety and Data Research Manager Emily Thomas gave statistics including that South Carolina had 1,200 traffic deaths in 2021, the highest traffic death rate in the nation. She said there were more than 147,000 collisions in 2021, with over 3,000 resulting in serious injuries.

Thomas said the Upper Savannah Region of Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick and Saluda counties had 4,383 collisions in 2021 with 50 fatalities and 81 serious injuries.

Thomas said 54 percent of accidents in the Upper Savannah Region were the result of roadway departures. She said the state is adding rumble strips, cable barriers, guardrails and wider/paved shoulders while cutting down trees to make rural travel safer.

She said the state is adding 35 roundabouts and planning 15 more to make rural intersections safer. Roundabouts are circular intersections in which traffic flows counterclockwise around a center island with no traffic signals or stop signs.

“We have a lot to do in South Carolina to make our roads safer,” she said.

Project Timelines

SCDOT Program Manager Tyke Redfearn discussed the timeline of a road project from planning to start-up phase to construction and completion, answering the popular question, “why does it take so long?”

Once a project is selected such as a highway widening or adding turn lanes, preliminary work must be completed. That can include testing soils, locating utilities, identifying wetlands, determining if endangered species are threatened, etc.

Then comes the preliminary design of the project which must include alternatives and variations if not all goes as planned. Stakeholders and the public must be involved, with public information meetings and public hearings scheduled.

Then come right of way acquisitions and sometimes relocating utilities or railroads. Before construction ever begins, there is an engineering phase, advertising the project, receiving bids, analyzing bids and rewarding the project. Costs are astronomical, sometimes exceeding $8 million to widen just one mile of road.

During this entire process, a schedule is made to try to complete each phase in a timely manner. As Peterson said earlier in the day, “the public is usually floored by how much time it takes to deliver (complete) a project.”

Current Project Updates

SCDOT Program Manager Clint Scoville and SCDOT District Engineer Kevin McLaughlin both discussed ongoing and future projects across each of the Region’s six counties.

A lengthy, detailed list of completed and upcoming road resurfacing and reconstruction projects as well as intersection and bridge projects for each county was provided.

Abbeville County has had 13 resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 15 more upcoming, two bridge replacements completed in 2022 (Bulls Horne Road and Vandiver Road) and one more under way (Erwin Mill Road).

Edgefield County has had five resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 24 more upcoming, and one bridge replaced (Key Road over Turkey Creek).

Greenwood County has had 12 resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 28 more upcoming, one intersection project completed in 2021 (SC 702 and 246), and one bridge replaced (Ridge Road).

Laurens County has had seven resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 23 more upcoming, one intersection project completed (W. Main Street and Trinity Church Road) in 2021, one bridge recently replaced (Hellams Circle), and three more bridges under way (Sawmill Road, Missallie Drive and Golden Acres Road).

McCormick County has had 11 resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 18 more upcoming, one bridge recently replaced (Key Road over Turkey Creek), and two more under way (Bell Field Road and Rocky Creek Road).

Saluda County has had 11 resurfacing/reconstruction projects completed since 2021 with 17 more upcoming, and four bridges are scheduled to be replaced from August 2022 to April 2023 (Richland Creek Road, Matthews Road, Rocky Creek Road and Shiloh Road).

A complete list of projects can be found on the www.scdot.org website by clicking on “Programs & Projects” and then “Project Viewer.”

TAP Program

SCDOT Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Manager Amy Blinson provided details about grants available for local governments and school districts to fund non-motorized transportation projects.

The projects can include foot and bicycle trails, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, multi-use paths, signage, etc., and some landscaping or streetscaping in non-motorized areas. The grants of up to $1 million must include a 20 percent match and the projects must be well-defined.

Future Projects

Meanwhile, plans are to put the following intersection projects into the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP): Short Cut Road and Highway 25 in Edgefield County, Highways 101 and 14 in downtown Gray Court in Laurens County, and Sweetwater Road and Bypass 25 SE in Greenwood County.

Upper Savannah Helps LCWSC Acquire $2 Million EDA Grant for Industry Expansion

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo has announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $2 million grant to the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission for sewer infrastructure upgrades to service a prime industrial corridor.

This project will promote job creation through sewer upgrades necessary for business expansion. This EDA grant will be matched with $735,000 in local funds and is expected to create 50 jobs and generate $50 million in private investment.

This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Upper Savannah Council of Governments (USCOG), according to an EDA press release. EDA funds USCOG to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.

Upper Savannah staff prepared and submitted the EDA grant application on behalf of the Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission and will help manage the project going forward.

This project will consist of the construction of a new, submersible, duplex pump station to replace the existing station at the Fibertex industrial facility near Gray Court in northern Laurens County.

The existing pump station is currently undersized to accommodate the expected future flow from the expansion of Fibertex. This facility produces material used in various products such as baby wipes, face masks, footwear, bedding and furniture.

Currently, Fibertex has one production line of nonwoven textiles. Another production line is expected to start this year, and future expansions are being planned.

The station will be equipped with a standby generator package to maintain operability in the event of power loss. Pumps will be sized to handle flow from the anticipated Fibertex expansion.

The 350 gallons per minute pump station will be designed to be easily upgradable as the need arises. The four-inch force main to the Owings Industrial Park will be replaced with a new eight-inch force main.

“This EDA investment will provide for sewer upgrades that Laurens needs to support its business community, including the expansion of a Danish company with a direct investment in the region,” Raimondo said.

“The Economic Development Administration plays an important role in helping communities implement their plans to provide the vital infrastructure that businesses need to be successful,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “This EDA investment will support necessary infrastructure upgrades to serve local industries in Laurens (County) and accommodate future growth.”

“This award is great news for the region and the state,” said Senator Lindsey Graham. “This funding will improve water and sewer service in a critical industrial corridor in the Upstate, allowing for continued economic development and job creation. The Palmetto State is a great place to live and work, and this grant will help to ensure quality infrastructure exists in the Upstate.”

Upper Savannah Staff Hosts Workshop on CDBG, EDA, Rural Infrastructure Funding

Upper Savannah COG staff sponsored a Community Development Workshop where close to 50 attendees learned details about Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Economic Development Administration (EDA) and Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) funding.

Forty-two attended the workshop in person at Ninety Six First Baptist Church on Jan. 12 while five participated virtually.

The counties of Abbeville, Greenwood, McCormick and Saluda; the cities of Abbeville, Clinton and Greenwood; the towns of Calhoun Falls, Due West, Edgefield, Gray Court, McCormick, Ridge Spring, Troy and Ware Shoals; the Greenwood, Laurens, Ninety Six and McCormick commissioners of public works (CPWs); and the Greenwood Metropolitan District, Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission, and Saluda County Water and Sewer Authority were represented.

Many of those represented have successfully applied for CDBG grants and have completed projects. But USCOG Community Development Project Manager Brittany Hallman wanted those in attendance to have an overview of all available funding opportunities.

“It was something Keith and I felt was a need for our region,” said Hallman, referring to Upper Savannah Community Development Director Keith Smith.

“Keith and I discussed with our CDBG Grants Manager (Nate Foutch) and decided we would incorporate other funding sources to encourage participation and provide exposure to other Community Development programs,” she said.

“With the overwhelming help and support of Shannon Hill and Cason Wright (from the USCOG staff) we were able to make this workshop successful,” she said.

Foutch, CDBG Grants Manager from the S.C. Department of Commerce, was one of three presenters at the workshop. Also presenting were Robin Cooley, South Carolina’s EDA Representative; and Liz Rosinski, Senior Program Manager/Marketing and Outreach, S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority.

“The purpose of the Community Development Workshop was to provide information regarding available funding resources to our Upper Savannah Region,” Hallman said. “It was important for us to provide our region an opportunity to network with other counties, municipalities and organizations that utilize the programs.

“The workshop allowed organizations to see the impacts of these programs, not just in our region but throughout the state. We hope the exposure to these programs and networking will promote innovative thinking, further utilizing these programs and encouraging community development. This opportunity also allowed us to familiarize them with our role here at Upper Savannah, and our involvement with these funding sources.”

Hallman said the guest speakers did a “great job” presenting their funding source information. “Many of the state and federally funded programs can be overwhelming to those who are not familiar. Our guest speakers did a great job condensing the information and presenting it comprehensively,” she said.

Attendees received handouts containing printed versions of the presentation and contact information associated with each funding source.

“I believe the attendees were encouraged by the opportunities available to them,” she added.

For more information about community development, contact USCOG at 864.941.8050.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Region Awarded CDBG Grants for Structure Demolitions, Fire Truck, Downtown Streetscape

Three municipalities in the Upper Savannah Region got good news this week when the S.C. Department of Commerce announced they have received grant awards in the Fall 2021 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) round.

The City of Clinton was awarded funding for a new fire truck, the City of Abbeville received a grant to demolish dilapidated structures, and the Town of Saluda was awarded funding for a downtown streetscape project.
Upper Savannah’s Community Development staff prepared and submitted the CDBG grant applications on their behalf and will administer the projects. They were three of 23 grant awards statewide in the Community Enrichment, Neighborhood Revitalization and Special Projects Round.
The City of Clinton will receive $500,000 in CDBG funding and provide a $250,000 local match for a total project cost of $750,000 to purchase a new fire pumper to replace a 1995 truck that was recently decommissioned due to transmission failure. The new truck would be used to provide improved fire protection services to LMI City of Clinton residents and businesses.
The City Fire Department is requesting a custom six-person capacity, ISO standard equipment, diesel truck, with a 2,000 gallons per minute (GPM) pump carrying 1,000 gallons of water. The department is seeking a truck that contains a small foam system to aid the effectiveness of the water and help expedite firefighting when critically needed.
Essential firefighting (loose) equipment will also be purchased to supply the department with the necessary gear to respond appropriately to any situation.
The City of Abbeville was awarded $221,564 in CDBG funding and will provide a $22,381 local match for a total project cost of $243,945 to demolish 17 structures which are a health and safety threat to the community. The structures are located on Brooks Street East, Brown Street, Cambridge Street, Gip Edwards Road, Poplar Street, Raymond Road, Wilson Street, and Secession Avenue. All structures are located within the Abbeville City limits.
The Town of Saluda will receive $721,212 in CDBG funding and provide a $102,562 local match for a total project cost of $823,774 to provide streetscape improvements to portions of downtown Saluda.
Improvements will consist of curbing, brick pavers, stamped crosswalks, reconstructed ADA ramps lined with railing, relocation and consolidation of signage, finished concrete, adding of stone façade on raised walkways, designated ADA/handicap parking, with installation of site furniture, greenery, irrigation, security cameras and street lighting. Improvements are proposed on a section of North Main and West Church streets.
News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

Upper Savannah COG Wins 2 National Awards

During these times when employers are desperately seeking workers, the Upper Savannah COG workforce development staff recognized high school students as a resource to help fill some of the needs.

This past spring, Upper Savannah reached out to more than 2,000 seniors in 14 public high schools in the seven-county area with a “Your Next Step After Graduation” booklet listing who might hire them.

It was part of a project called Graduates Preparing for Success (GPS), aptly named because high school students need GPS-like directions on how to apply for jobs.

For its efforts, Upper Savannah has received a 2021 Aliceann Wohlbruck Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) for the GPS Project.

The GPS Project was one of two NADO Awards which USCOG received. Upper Savannah was also honored for the Abbeville County Federal Lands Access Improvements Project.

NADO is a Washington, DC-based membership association of regional development organizations that promote programs and policies that strengthen local governments, communities, and economies through regional cooperation, program delivery, and comprehensive strategies.

The association’s Impact Awards program recognizes regional development organizations and their partners for improving the economic and community competitiveness of our nation’s regions and local communities.

Each year, 2,000 or more seniors graduate from the 14 public high schools in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties. Some continue on to four-year colleges while others aspire to only graduate high school, advancing immediately into the job market. Some college-bound seniors still want jobs with flexible hours to earn some income while they go to school.

The main focus of the GPS project was creating the booklet which lists employers who hire current high school students or recent graduates, information about the employer’s hiring process and recruitment method, incentives offered such as if the employer sponsors free training, and if they offer apprenticeships, flexible hours and tuition reimbursement; and also website address.

Approximately 90 employers are listed in the booklet which was distributed to each of the 2,000-plus graduates in May 2021. The S.C. Workforce Development Board provided the funding to print the booklets which also include helpful job search and interview tips.

Upper Savannah staff and workforce development partners also developed as part of the GPS project pop-up job fairs that were held in conjunction with high school graduation practices in May 2021. After practice, the employers were there waiting, enabling students to find out who had immediate openings and to put in applications.

Students were also exposed to information about SC Works Centers, which can assist them in finding work now and/or in the future. Without the GPS project, none of this information would have been available to this young pool of potential workers.

The Abbeville County Federal Lands Access Improvements Project is in the planning stage and could take some time to complete with assistance from the S.C. Department of Transportation.

The project involves better constructed roadways and trail heads with designated parking at three locations that will enhance the mobility and accessibility of all visitors to the Sumter National Forest in southeastern Abbeville County.

Abbeville County received a $3 million Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant to fund the project. USCOG applied for the funding on behalf of the County.

Paved, maintained roads are available to a certain point, but the last mile or so at each location is not up to standard. Because there are no designated parking areas, visitors park along the side of the road and create dangerous conditions for other drivers and pedestrians. There were six total motor vehicle accidents in the area of these locations in the past few years.

Clearing, paving, and creating designated parking areas will provide a stable foundation with more pavement width for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to use the roadways together safely.

Award-winning projects were recognized during NADO’s 2021 Annual Training Conference, held in Portland, Ore., on October 16-19. The 2021 class of award recipients consists of 102 projects from 70 organizations spanning 24 states.

“During the past 20 months, regional development organizations across the country have shown just how valuable they are in supporting the local communities they serve,” said 2019-2021 NADO President Kevin Byrd, executive director of the New River Valley Regional Commission, located in Radford, Va.

“From COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives, to workforce and economic development projects, to social services programs and much more, the 2021 NADO Impact Awardees highlight the many ways our members work on the ground every day to improve quality of life in their regions.”

The NADO Impact Awards are presented in honor of the late Aliceann Wohlbruck who was NADO’s first executive director and served 24 years as a tireless champion for regional approaches to economic development in rural communities.

Since 1967 NADO has provided advocacy, education, networking, and research for the national network of 540 regional development organizations. NADO members provide professional, programmatic, and technical assistance to over 2,300 counties and 15,000 municipalities.

News Update from Upper Savannah Council of Governments

McCormick Area Transit Acquires Funds for Abbeville County; Saluda County to Receive Transit Funding

McCormick County Senior Center/McCormick Area Transit has received a $100,000 National Rural Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) grant in the Community Rides Grant Program to begin transportation services in Abbeville County.

McCormick Area Transit (MAT) submitted the competitive grant application on behalf of Abbeville County and will provide the services there.

Upper Savannah COG and other partnering agencies have discussed rural transportation for the past few years. Until recently, McCormick and Edgefield were the only two counties in the Upper Savannah Region to offer public transportation.

Progress has since been made in the Region.

MAT began negotiating with Greenwood County, which was awarded SCDOT funding to begin a transit partnership on July 1, 2021. Medical, pharmacy and essential shopping rides are now available to anyone living within 2.5 miles of the Greenwood County Courthouse.

Now transportation will be available in Abbeville County, and soon in Saluda County.

McCormick County Senior Center/MAT Executive Director Becky Moon Powell prepared the RTAP application on behalf of Abbeville County.

“It’s a great day at MAT Trans. We have just been awarded $100,000 grant for the National Rural Transportation Association of America to start a public transportation project in Abbeville, SC,” Powell said in a recent email to several partnering agencies.

“It has been a long process, a difficult grant to write; however, together, we have made possible for Abbeville to experience the privilege of offering public transportation to their county residents,” Powell said.

Upper Savannah Government Services Director Rick Green along with Abbeville County Council and staff helped provide the necessary information required for the grant application.

Laurens and Saluda counties still do not have public transit. However, USCOG successfully applied on Saluda County’s behalf for $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) COVID funding to be used for temporary public transit services in their county.

USCOG will contract with a qualified provider for medical, pharmacy and other essential trips for Saluda County residents once the COVID funds are released.

USCOG Workforce Area Receives Federal Funding to Help Job Seekers, Businesses

The Upper Savannah COG is one of nine organizations nationwide to receive U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) funding to help provide training and employment services for job seekers as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts.

USCOG’s workforce development staff applied for the funding on behalf of a consortium of five workforce development areas across the state. Upper Savannah is the lead applicant.

The consortium receiving the funds includes Upper Savannah: Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties; Upstate: Cherokee, Spartanburg and Union counties; Low Country: Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties; Pee Dee: Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, Florence, Dillon and Marion counties; and Lower Savannah: Aiken Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties.

Together, the five areas had more than 100,000 claimants exhaust unemployment insurance (UI). As of July 2021, South Carolina no longer provided Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

The funding will be used to help reach those who have exhausted their UI and need re-employment.

“South Carolina had a substantial reduction in WOIA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) funding,” Upper Savannah Workforce Development Director Ann Skinner said. “The five Workforce Boards anticipate needing funding to respond to the recovery.”

Skinner said workforce development staffs have not been able to reach dislocated workers as well as they have before the pandemic.

“Traditionally, we have responded to events such as plant closings and provided an orientation and offered on-site services. During the pandemic, workers were laid off without notice. Many were fearful of going to an SC Works Center to do job searches (due to the pandemic). We need to have a systematic way of reaching those who are at risk of not returning to work. We will use funding to conduct outreach and develop On-the-Job training contracts.”

Long-term UI claimants are less marketable because they do not have a consistent work history, Skinner said.

“Many have been without health insurance benefits while unemployed. They are now without income support and may need help accessing services,” she said.

The Upper Savannah Area has faced many challenges, including preparing for the closing of the Fuji plant which will result in the loss of 400 jobs by 2022.

Skinner said these aren’t normal times.

“There is unprecedented need at this time for workforce services,” she said. “Employers are rebuilding their workforce following the pandemic. Job seekers are struggling to find jobs which pay as much as the pandemic unemployment benefits paid.

“South Carolina is using CARES funding to offer free tuition for short-term community college programs. Traffic in SC Works Centers dipped during the pandemic and has not yet returned to normal. We plan to engage in outreach to get customers to Centers and alert them to opportunities.”

Assisting the unemployed includes starting with individual assessment and career planning. The goal is to build on clients’ existing skills.

“We will conduct targeted job development to create On-the-Job Training (OJT) opportunities. It is anticipated that significant staff support will be needed to help clients develop soft skills. We will offer supportive services (transportation, dependent care, medical and work clothing). Utilizing OJT will align training with employer needs and provide immediate income support for dislocated workers,” Skinner said.

All five areas operate formula dislocated worker programs and connect with partners as part of the SC Works system, she said. This grant will build on those connections.

USCOG plans on developing videos that will serve as an orientation to dislocated worker services. The video will be placed on YouTube and have links on Local Workforce Boards’ websites. A portion of the video will be generic to South Carolina, but it will be customized for the five areas, she said. Other videos might cover identifying transferable skills and labor market information.

Another plan involves crafting social media campaigns that can be used by all five workforce areas, focusing on getting the job seeker a higher wage and information about skill training. Specialized messages will be offered to high school dropouts and offenders.

Another goal is to get mailing addresses for all individuals who were in the job matching database the week before UI ended. Staffs will send a postcard to each of the approximately 120,000 individuals.

The strategies to be used with the DOL grant funding was crafted by five workforce administrators with more than 100 years experience. OJT was selected as the primary tool to get workers back on the job because income support is built in.

The grant funding will help local businesses as well as job seekers. OJT reimburses employers 50 – 75 percent of new hire wages.

Businesses inquiring about training reimbursement should contact USCOG Deputy Workforce Development Director Billy Morgan at 864 941-8071. Job seekers should contact the Greenwood County SC Works Center at 864 229-8872.