A coalition of Albany manufacturers received tentative, and unanimous, approval from the City Council on Monday for more than $3.2 million in economic development funds that would go toward helping Linn-Benton Community College better train new members of the city's industrial work force.
At its Monday work session, the panel also said it would create a subcommittee to hammer out the details of trying to meet the $3,212,695 "Package A" funding request. The package deals with training students in the areas of mechatronics, non-destructive testing, machine tool and welding.
Two other request packages, for health care and additional manufacturing training, totaling just over $1 million were set aside for now.
The Package A funding, should the city go through with it, would come from the $18.5 million the city received as a settlement when PepsiCo backed out of a deal to build a Gatorade plant in Albany. It would eat up most of the roughly $4.7 million in the city's economic development fund, set up with PepsiCo settlement proceeds.
Speaking in favor of industry's request, City Manager Wes Hare noted that "we have people who can't find work, but we have jobs that can't be filled. Having a training program that serves our specific industries makes a lot of sense. It isn't something that just sprung up overnight. This is their best effort to address what they see as their biggest problem."
Jim Merryman, president and chief operating officer of Oregon Freeze Dry, emphasized it was the business community driving the request, not LBCC. "Whether we can fill these openings we've been complaining about, that's the ultimate measurement of whether it works," he said.
Councilor Rich Kellum, while acknowledging the request's merits, noted the city had large funding issues of its own coming up, including possibly new police and fire stations. He also was concerned Albany might be being asked to contribute disproportionately to the rest of the area LBCC serves.
"We have collaboration of industries; they have a plan," Councilor Bessie Johnson said. "I don't see how we can not go along with it. I am totally in favor of this."
Added Councilor Floyd Collins: "The City Council is very supportive of job retention, business retention, and I really look at this as a unique partnership opportunity."
Mayor Sharon Konopa stressed to Merryman and the other business leaders present Monday that, though the request originated from them, "you won't take the heat, this body will."
"If we didn't have these funds, how would you solve this problem?" she asked. "We really need to know you looked at all other options."
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