New law expands use of Workforce Advancement Training grants

May 27, 2014

From lacrossetribune.com: “Job training law to help businesses compete globally, Doyle says” — ONALASKA — A law incubated in La Crosse will hatch jobs throughout Wisconsin and enhance Badger State employers’ ability to be global players, said author Rep. Steve Doyle.

The law, which Gov. Scott Walker signed in April and repeated at a ceremonial signing at Crescent Printing Co. in Onalaska Friday, expands Workforce Advancement Training grants to technical colleges.

“Current use of WAT grants is too limited for many businesses to make use of them,” said Doyle, an Onalaska Democrat. “This proposal was designed to help companies compete in new markets by expanding the way these grants can be used.”

Established in 2005, the state-funded WAT grants are administered by the Wisconsin Technical College System, which awards them to the state’s 16 tech schools to train companies’ current employees.

That differentiates them from programs to train new employees and allows businesses to advance their workers’ skills, Walker said.

Roger Bjorge, president of the fourth-generation company Crescent Printing, said, “It’s an opportunity for our employees to take classes to get further training.”

The company, which Bjorge co-owns with Bill Lund, has 45 employees, Bjorge said.

Grants previously were allowed for businesses with no more than 100 employees or $10 million in gross annual income. The new law expands the programs to businesses with up to 250 employees and allows grants to tech schools to help business expand their markets or diversify.

“This diversification will ultimately result in job growth,” Doyle said.

The grants range from $2,500 to $200,000 a company for general businesses and $2,500 to $50,000 for small businesses.

The grants provided about $17.6 million to help hundreds of employers train more than 77,000 workers across the state by the end of fiscal year 2012.

La Crosse economic development professionals helped formulate the law at a roundtable that included representatives of Western Technical College, Workforce Connections, the La Cross Area Chamber of Commerce, the La Crosse Area Development Corp. and other members of the Seven Rivers Alliance, as well as Doyle and Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.

Doyle authored the measure in the Assembly and asked Shilling to sponsor it in the upper chamber, and she enlisted Republican Sen. Joseph Leibham of Sheboygan as primary author, while she became secondary author.

“I give her a lot of credit for getting something done without getting credit,” Doyle said.

The bill passed the Legislature with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Out of 380 bills the Legislature passed this past session, only 31 had Democrats as primary authors.

“Jobs creation is not a partisan issue, and I was happy to work with both sides of the aisle to make sure this bill became law,” Doyle said.

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