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Local

Change would do a job on Ogle County

County is in wrong workforce district, but board chairman says fixing it would hurt job seekers

OREGON – The state may force Ogle County to make a change, but the County Board chairman said it wouldn’t be a change for the better.

In fact, he said, it could hurt people looking for jobs.

County Board Chairman Kim Gouker said Illinois Workforce Innovation Board officials told him last month that the county is one of five in the state that’s out of compliance because the Local Workforce Innovation Area the county is in doesn’t match its Economic Development District.

Local Workforce Innovation Areas were established to re-train displaced workers and provide other services for job seekers. The areas are part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provides funding through grants.

Ogle County is part of an LWIA with JoDaviess, Carroll, Whiteside, Lee, Bureau, LaSalle, and Putnam counties, and the change would force the county to join a different LWIA with Winnebago, Stephenson, and Boone counties.

That doesn’t sit well with Gouker.

He said a lot of time, planning, and money have gone into getting the current LWIA working effectively, and Ogle County’s population, demographics, and large rural area are more compatible with the other counties in its LWIA.

“We’re a much more rural county. In reality and compatibility, we need to stay where we are,” Gouker said, adding that Ogle has built relationships with other counties in the area.

Ogle, Lee and Whiteside are in the same Regional Office of Education, and Ogle and Lee are partners in an Enterprise Zone, where they are promoting economic development.

The county also would lose an LWIA office in Oregon. Programs in the area are operated by Best Inc., a LaSalle firm with offices in Oregon and other cities within the workforce area. Gouker said the Oregon office would have to move to Belvidere.

“We have only 20 percent of our total workforce that works in Boone, Winnebago and Stephenson counties,” he said.“We have 60 percent of our workforce that lives and works in Ogle County. So, to change our workforce services due to the 20 percent that works in the other LWIA district, is not fair to the 80 percent who do not work there, especially if our displaced workers would need to go to Belvidere to receive their services that are available now in Ogle County.”

Gouker said that in 2010, Ogle County decided against joining the Winnebago-Stephenson-Boone LWIA, but state law was revised a few years ago to require LWIAs to match the Economic Development Districts.

“The crux of it was we didn’t want to get thrown in with Winnebago, Stephenson, and Boone counties because they aren’t the same as we are,” Gouker said. “They all have large metropolitan areas, and
we don’t.”

However, the county remains in the state-mandated Economic Development District with Winnebago, Stephenson, and Boone, and that, state officials say, cannot continue.

Their solution: Ogle must change LWIAs.

Gouker disagrees. He said a better solution would be for the state to change the Economic Development District map to coincide with LWIAs.

He recommended that to state officials but got no response.

Gouker and Best Inc. representatives met with Illinois Workforce Innovation Board officials in May to make the case for keeping the county where it is.

The governor has the responsibility to designate and re-designate LWIAs. A final decision must be made by June 30. In the meantime, the state board has asked the Department of Labor for a 1-year extension.

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