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By Tim Leeds 

Governor, congressional delegation call foul on plan to close Montana Job Corps center


Steve Bullock

Montana's governor and all three members of its congressional delegation are on the same page about a Trump administration plan to close a Job Corps Center in Anaconda.

Letters were sent Friday by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Steve Dains, R-Mont., and Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and Monday by Gov. Steve Bullock, decrying the announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Agriculture Friday that Job Corps will move from the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of Labor, and nine Civilian Conservation Centers including in Anaconda will be closed.

"I write to express my strong objections to your irresponsible plans to close successful Job Corps centers," Tester wrote in his letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta. "Make no mistake, this decision will lead to an immediate loss of jobs in rural American and undermine economic development in communities like Anaconda moving forward.

"The fact that you are announcing this on a Friday before a holiday weekend is even more offensive," Tester added. "I will be working with anyone that will stand up against this decision in hopes of changing your mind."

The announcement from the Department of Labor says the action will create "an opportunity to serve a greater number of students at higher-performing centers at a lower cost to taxpayers by modernizing and reforming part of the Job Corps program."

"Focusing on the best possible outcome for students now and in the future, the Department will increase student access to Job Corps centers with the highest sustained student performance outcomes," it concludes. "The Department will continue to ensure student access to the program through a commitment to maintain at least one Job Corps center in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico."

The Job Corps website says the program, created in 1964 during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, is a no-cost education and vocational training program administered that helps young people ages 16-24 "improve the quality of their lives by empowering them to get great jobs and become independent."

"Job Corps helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds complete their high school education and trains them for meaningful careers so they can get a good start in the working world," it continues, adding that Job Corps serves about 60,000 youths a year through 123 Job Corps centers throughout the country.

In their letter to Secretary Acosta, Daines and Gianforte say they appreciate the "effort to better align CCC's organization structure with DOL's mission, but have concerns about the closure of the Anaconda CCC. ... I urge you to maintain Anaconda CCC's operating status or provide suitable and equivalent alternatives for the students currently served by the Anaconda CCC."

Daines and Gianforte wrote that they also have concerns bout the decision to transition CCCs to new contract operators.

"While the need to ensure CCCs operate as efficiently as possible is important, it is critical that such a transition does not impede the effectiveness or capacity of impacted sites.

They continued that the centers provide valuable skills and training.

"This training is even more important as demand for skilled employees in construction, manufacturing, and many other trades is increasing substantially," they continue. " ... I request that you reverse the decision and keep the Anaconda CCC open."

In his letter to Acosta and Purdue, Bullock also asked them to reconsider their decision about the Anaconda center and also expressed concerns about the plan to transition to new contract operators at the Trapper Creek center in Darby. He writes that the Anaconda center trains an average of 170 people a year in high-demand areas, providing a source of employees for local employers in manufacturing, heavy equipment operation, diesel mechanics, welding, and other trades. He adds that it also provides workers for Montana's firefighting efforts, and is a major economic driver in Anaconda, as well, and acts as a community partner, with students assisting with snow removal and maintenance and repair projects.

Steve Daines

"Although this rural training center may not have as many graduates as those located in more urban areas, the workers trained through the Anaconda Job Corps Center do not have other private training programs available, making this center the only source of training for both workers and local businesses," Bullock wrote. "Closing this center will lead to immediate job loss for the workers, but also will have negative impacts on our state's resiliency to fires and other disasters, economic development and private enterprise in our state."

Tester also cites work the students do in surrounding communities and in providing resources to USDA and the U.S. Forest Service as well as studying in fields like welding, heavy construction, painting, bricklaying and carpentry. The program provides workers for a variety of businesses in different fields - including a student who finished the welding program getting a job with a state-of-the-art aerospace manufacturer.

"It is unbelievable you would claim to support economic development in a rural state like Montana while closing down this facility, which has a proven track record of success," he wrote.


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