State proposed economic change worries county

OREGON – The state could force Ogle County to change its designated Workforce Development Region, and county officials worry that could hurt programs aimed at helping local workers.

Ogle County is currently a member of a Workforce Innovation Area with JoDaviess, Carroll, Whiteside, Lee, Bureau, Putnam and LaSalle counties. If the state gets its way, Ogle County will be moved into a group with Winnebego, Stephenson and Boone counties.

And that has Kim Gouker, chairman of the Ogle County Board, concerned.

“My real concern is the difference in Ogle County and the other three counties we are being moved to,” he said. “Stephenson, Winnebago and Boone counties each have one major metropolitan area that makes up the bulk of their population. Ogle County is much different in that we have many smaller cities, and we're more rural; our needs are very similar with those in the other seven counties in the Workforce group that we currently work with. Our counties and our problems are similar and we work well together now.”

If the change occurs, the county’s office for Best, Inc. could move from Rock River Center in Oregon to Belvidere. Best is a non-profit that administers federal workforce development programs aimed helping unemployed and new workers with programs including new skills training and career awareness for young people.

The concern is that Ogle County, with only an estimated 11.8 percent of the population in that new four-county region, would get swallowed up by a county like Winnebago, which would account for more than 65 percent of the population.

At issue is that Ogle County is in a Workforce Innovation area that does not match up with its Economic Development District, as required by federal law. In order to comply, the state is telling Ogle County that it must change its Workforce Innovation Area.

If Illinois does not comply, Gouker said the federal Department of Labor, which shares money with states to run workforce programs, won’t provide any money.

“The crux of the issue here is that the labor Department said these two maps have to mesh,” Gouker said.

This is something the county looked at a number of years ago, and decided to join the other seven counties in a Workforce Innovation Area. And according to those involved, the arrangement has worked well.

“I think one of the things, over the past five years, we have developed relationships with our eight counties that have been pretty solid and worked pretty well,” said Pam Furlan, executive director of Best, Inc.

She said the state is basing its decision to move Ogle County in with Boone, Stephenson and Winnebago based on 2013 data that shows 25 percent of the county’s residents commute out of the county for work. She said more current numbers show that percentage to be about 20 percent.

“Sixty percent of people who live in Ogle County actually work in Ogle County,” she said.

Gouker and others in the county have met with the state to make their case, and a decision is expected by the end of the month. If the county must make the change, it will take time and cost money.

“There’s a lot of work,” Furlan said.

And it could mean the services now helping workers with job fairs and retraining when they lose a job, could be effected, Gouker said.

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