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.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo today announced six programs, collectively called Investing in America’s Communities, that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) will execute to equitably invest the $3 billion it received from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Contact Upper Savannah COG for assistance with any potential application of any relevant projects. Contact USCOG Economic Recovery Specialist Cason Wright at (864) 941-8065 or email@example.com for additional information.
According to an EDA news release today, Investing in America’s Communities includes:
Build Back Better Regional Challenge ($1 billion) will capitalize on American ingenuity and American workers by providing a transformational investment to regions across the country to revitalize their economies.
Good Jobs Challenge ($500 million) is designed to help get Americans back in good-paying jobs. The program will develop and strengthen regional workforce training systems and sector-based partnerships with a focus on programs targeted at women, people of color and historically underserved communities.
Economic Adjustment Assistance ($500 million) grants will help hundreds of communities across the nation plan, build, innovate, and put people back to work through projects tailored to meet local needs.
Indigenous Communities ($100 million) program will work hand-in-hand with Tribal Governments and Indigenous communities to develop and execute economic development projects they need to recover from the pandemic and build economies for the future.
Travel, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation ($750 million) program will focus on revitalizing the hard-hit travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries and accelerate the recovery of communities that rely on these sectors.
Statewide Planning, Research and Networks ($90 million) grants include funding for state planning efforts as well as grants to build Communities of Practice to extend technical assistance to support EDA’s work with grantees.
To learn more about EDA and the American Rescue Plan Funding Opportunities, sign up for the EDA 101 and America Rescue Plan Overview webinar, which will be held on July 27 and July 29.
For more information, visit www.eda.gov/ARPA for the latest news on EDA’s implementation plans.
High school seniors in the Upper Savannah Workforce Area will soon be learning who might hire them and what kind of training is available as they take the “next step” after graduation.
Upper Savannah workforce staff created a “Your Next Step After Graduation” directory of employers who hire recent high school graduates and are distributing to all graduating seniors at public high schools in the Upper Savannah Workforce Area.
The Area includes Abbeville (112 seniors), Dixie (68), Strom Thurmond (175), Emerald (179), Greenwood (309), Ninety Six (106), Ware Shoals (59), Laurens (307), Clinton (192), McCormick (45), Mid-Carolina (175), Newberry (134), Whitmire (51) and Saluda (126) high schools. There are more than 2,000 Area graduates in the Class of 2021.
The directory includes an alphabetical listing of approximately 100 companies in the Area which responded to a survey indicating they hire current high school students and recent graduates. The directory includes additional information such as website addresses and whether they offer flexible hours, tuition reimbursement, etc.
“The state of South Carolina wanted us to engage with high school students because that is untapped talent for employers who are screaming that they need people,” said Upper Savannah Workforce Development Deputy Director Billy Morgan, who played a major role in production of the directory.
“Not every high school student is going straight to college, and people who are going to college are looking for part-time jobs or jobs with flexible schedules so they can go to school at the same time.”
The directory funded by an S.C. Workforce Development Board grant also provides information about training opportunities and assistance available for several health care programs to automotive technology, mechatronics, HVAC and welding, and several others.
The directory also includes encouraging tidbits for seniors making that next step, stressing the importance of an up-to-date resume, a good phone number, and a professional e-mail address.
The directory also includes quotes about the importance of putting forth effort, being punctual, showing the willingness to learn, and exhibiting good work ethic.
The directory also shares several interview tips that stress strong communication skills needed to land a good job.
Another page is filled with helpful tips for graduates such as not making an education or career choice based on what friends are doing, never passing up an opportunity to meet someone new, and making time to look for part-time jobs, internships or volunteer opportunities.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion emergency relief bill, providing approximately $350 billion to states, territories, tribes, counties and municipalities to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, offset revenue losses, bolster economic recovery and provide premium pay for essential workers.
The Act will provide approximately $42.6 million to the six counties in the Upper Savannah Region and approximately $25,960,000 to the Region’s 24 cities and towns, according to published reports.
The U.S. Department of Treasury is expected to release definitive guidance on how the funds may be spent. However, there is no timeline on when that guidance will be released according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC).
MASC strongly recommends cities and towns refrain from spending any funds they receive until that guidance is released. Spending the funds on unauthorized uses could result in a city or town having to repay those funds to the federal government. The same would apply to counties.
Initial estimates have been released. However, they cannot be relied upon as Treasury is still working to finalize the distribution amounts. The Municipal Association recommends not using any of the estimates that are circulating for planning purposes.
Funding will be distributed in two tranches. The first tranche will be distributed within 60 days of enactment of the law, and the second tranche will be distributed 12 months after the first is paid.
The funds may be used to:
- Respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality.
- Respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers that are performing such essential work, or by providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.
- Provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.
- Make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
American Rescue Plan Local Allocation Estimates*
|Abbeville County||4.76 million|
|City of Abbeville||1.87 million|
|Town of Calhoun Falls||710,000|
|Town of Donalds||120,000|
|Town of Due West||450,000|
|Town of Lowndesville||40,000|
|Edgefield County||5.29 million|
|Town of Edgefield||1.8 million|
|Town of Johnston||890,000|
|Town of Trenton||70,000|
|Greenwood County||13.73 million|
|City of Greenwood||8.74 million|
|Town of Hodges||60,000|
|Town of Ninety Six||760,000|
|Town of Troy||40,000|
|Town of Ware Shoals||800,000|
|Laurens County||13.09 million|
|City of Clinton||3.13 million|
|Town of Cross Hill||190,000|
|Town of Gray Court||310,000|
|City of Laurens||3.31 million|
|Town of Waterloo||60,000|
|McCormick County||1.84 million|
|Town of McCormick||880,000|
|Town of Parksville||40,000|
|Town of Plum Branch||30,000|
|Saluda County||3.97 million|
|Town of Ridge Spring||280,000|
|Town of Saluda||1.35 million|
|Town of Ward||30,000|
* Allocation Estimates provided by Municipal Association of SC website
Upper Savannah workforce development staff recently learned there is a shortage of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in the Region and sought funding to fix the situation.
Upper Savannah COG applied for and recently received a $500,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train 100 emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties. The grant award was announced this month.
“The goal is to expand the pool of EMT basic all the way to advanced paramedics,” Upper Savannah COG Workforce Development Administrator Ann Skinner said.
This is a four-year grant applied jointly with the Pee Dee Council of Governments in Florence. The Pee Dee Region will receive $2 million.
“We applied together to increase the chances of the grant being funded,” Skinner said. “But there were statewide issues that we thought we could work on together. The Pee Dee grant is focused more on careers leading to nursing and is hospital-based. Ours is based with the county EMS services.”
According to a recent survey conducted by Piedmont Technical College (PTC), each county in the Upper Savannah Region had vacancies due to a lack of skilled applicants and staff turnover. Greenwood County had 17 vacancies, Laurens eight, Newberry and Edgefield five apiece, Saluda and Abbeville four apiece, and McCormick three.
The grant period begins Feb. 1, 2021, when Upper Savannah can begin to enroll trainees and pay for classes. PTC will be the educational provider while USCOG will administer the grant.
“We are going to have a boot camp this summer for recent high school graduates who are interested in becoming an EMT or paramedic,” Skinner said. “During the summer, they will receive training for basic EMT.
“After the end of the summer, they will have the chance to continue on with school to work toward becoming a paramedic or they will have an opportunity to go to work for one of the seven county EMS systems who are hiring. And if they go to work as an EMT, they can earn a living and continue school part-time to enhance their credentials and earn more.”
The grant will promote more than just the basic EMT curriculum.
“We interviewed Human Resources directors who do exit interviews and asked, ‘why do people quit EMT?’” Skinner said. The answers included stress, long hours and the physical aspects of the job.
“So we will build the boot camp around a retention model,” she said. “Some of the things we have built into the boot camp is some mentoring and counseling so that they can prepare themselves for the emotional and physical aspects of the job.
“We are building into the curriculum weight training. If they are coming straight out of high school, they might not have the physical stamina to lift a patient, so we are building in weight training through the Greenwood YMCA.”
Trainees will also be taught how to sleep.
“There are strategies for how to go to sleep. If you are working a shift job and you can’t go to sleep, you are tired, you can be dangerous, you burn out quickly,” Skinner said.
She said USCOG will work with county EMS directors to make sure they have trained staff to fill their open positions and tailor the training to meet their needs. Having full staffs can reduce overtime and even worker’s compensation cases.
County governments have worked hard to meet local needs during the pandemic. Getting a larger pool of available workers will reduce overtime costs.
This was Upper Savannah’s first-ever workforce development federal grant application and the successful award is a win for everybody in the region.
“Every resident wants fast, professional emergency medical services,” Skinner said. “They want to know if they have a need, that they can call and somebody will come. It’s a universal need.”