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State appropriates millions of dollars for rural counties

Johnson County among at-risk and distressed counties to receive funding to spark workforce development.

By Tamas Mondovics
Editor

A recent press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce announced that the state of will be using millions of dollars in grant money to help the nearly four dozen distressed and at-risk counties across Tennessee.
“The aim is to bolster workforce development efforts,” the release stated, adding that the funding was approved by the Tennessee Workforce Development Board and aligns with Governor Bill Lee’s rural initiatives.
According to state officials the Rural Initiative Funding Opportunity Announcement (RIFOA) has made $3 million in funding available to local workforce development boards to support workforce expansion efforts in the targeted counties.
By the numbers, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) accepted grant applications from the counties across the state and determined the amount of funding each recipient would receive.
The state’s 15 distressed counties will split $2.1 million of the $3 million in grant money, with the remaining $900,000 divided among 23 counties, including Johnson County, deemed at-risk by the state.
“In alignment with Governor Lee’s priorities for Tennessee, we are excited to be able to make these funds available,” said TDLWD Commissioner Jeff McCord. “These grant dollars will foster the opportunity to develop and maintain a qualified workforce in the places where it is needed most.”
Areas aside from Johnson County receiving funding in the Northeast Tennessee Local Workforce Development Area (LWDA) include Hancock County, which the state considers distressed, along with Hawkins, Unicoi, and Carter, which are also considered at-risk.
The grant money will fund re-entry, customer service training, OSHA 10 training, incumbent worker training, industry specific chemistry cohort, career technical education, certified production training, and work-based learning programs in the Northeast LWDA.
Commenting on what this means for its reasidents, Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor said, “Once devided up between each qualifying county, Johnson County will receive around $46,000, which will be used in an effort to assist a partnership between the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and Parkdale Mills Plant 16 in Mountain City.
Taylor explained that the funds would be used for supplies, safety equipment and other expenses including transportation to help inmates who qualify to work at the plant.
“This will also give participants the chance to be employed after their release from jail,” Taylor said.
The rest of the funds will also be put in good use to ensure that the County is a work-ready community.
Tennessee Workforce Development Board chairman Tim Berry agreed when he said, “The members of the Tennessee Workforce Development Board want to do everything we can to give the residents in our rural communities the skills that will allow them to help themselves to better job opportunities. These grants should provide new resources to which they may not otherwise have access,
and provide them another step upward in their livelihoods.”
Tennessee’s distressed and at-risk counties face workforce challenges that do not exist in the state’s urban and metropolitan areas. Often, local leaders in rural counties are forced to navigate workforce obstacles such as geography, demography and high demand for employees, but a low supply of a qualified workforce.
Programs funded by these grants will create greater opportunities for residents in these counties to take part in skills training in high-demand growth sectors.
Money for the RIFOA comes from the Governor’s reserve of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (WIOA) funds. TDLWD will provide additional program guidance to the local workforce development boards, which receive funding.
For details on county-specific grant amounts and programs, visit the newsroom at tn.gov/workforce.