A ONE-STOP JOB SHOP
Economic development by Mesa County looks like the new Workforce Center at 512 29½ Road, county officials said Wednesday.
The $7.3 million, 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art job center opens Feb. 11, earlier than planned and under budget, county spokesman Ryan Cook said.
Now a true center instead of a hodgepodge of leased office space and deteriorating outbuildings, the new one-stop shop consolidates county staff in one place to help residents with job hunts, job training, career counseling and a variety of other job-creating activities.
County staff works with local business to devise a variety of training programs at no cost to the employer on subjects as varied as sex harassment in the workplace to new scheduling software for truckers.
The new facility is located immediately north of the county’s Community Services Building. The two will eventually connect via sidewalks and landscaping to create a single campus.
“A welcome addition with this building is the ability to serve the public in a more efficient way. This will have a lot smoother layout and easier access,” center Director Sue Tuffin said during an August tour of the building.
The Workforce Center serves more than 41,000 people annually, 20,000 in employment services alone, said Suzie Miller, the Workforce Center’s business services manager. About 80 percent of the people who received training at the Workforce Center in 2013 won a job, Miller said.
“Those that used an additional Workforce Center service beyond just registering with Connecting Colorado, on average, earned $594 more (in wages),” she said.
The Workforce Investment Act program administered at the center provided training and supportive services to more than 460 people in 2013, she said.
Amenities in the new building include an expansive, multi-functional business center featuring two 80-inch, flat-screen televisions, where local businesses can host meetings. There are also larger, more comfortable classrooms and a general technological upgrade.
For example, job seekers with laptops will now be able to access wireless Internet at the center instead of trying to piggyback on services broadcast by a nearby tire store, as was the case at the old center’s 29 Road and North Avenue location.
The new center also includes a patio, a child care room and a room for General Education Development classes, which are currently housed in trailers.
The new classroom has a separate entrance from the lobby to accommodate students coming in for night classes after the front entrance has been locked.
“I can’t wait,” said Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “They are a partner for businesses in this area. A lot of people don’t realize how important that Workforce Center is to businesses in terms of assisting them in placing the right people in the right positions, in terms of providing on-the-job training dollars, and internships. I mean, they serve over 1,000 businesses a year in this community.”
Unlike every other job center in Colorado, the Mesa County center is locally controlled and administered. This pays dividends to local job seekers because county staff knows more about the people they serve, understands the community’s workforce needs better and responds more quickly than state administrators far removed in Denver ever could, county officials said.
The Grand Junction Economic Partnership’s primary mission is to recruit new businesses to the city and to help others already here expand. The Workforce Center makes that job easier, the partnership said.
“The Workforce Center is a really nice thing to sell to a new business that may not be familiar with the workforce in the community,” said Kelly Flenniken, the partnership’s executive director.
“We tell them that there is an available and qualified workforce for them and a well-established entity in place that can help with their hiring events, their pre-hiring screenings, and who can do employment placement exams of specific skills,” Flenniken said. “(These services) are free. When you look at how much goes into starting, and even expanding, a business, to have one less thing on your plate, that’s pretty attractive.”
The expansive, high-tech business center — open to any organization seeking to host a meeting — could provide competition for the city’s Two Rivers Convention Center, but city officials contend the new space will actually benefit all businesses in the area.
“Anything to help us accommodate a variety of business is always helpful. We work with people on all sorts of unique meeting space. Whatever best fits their needs,” said Barb Bowman, division director for the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau. “We will look forward to working with (the Workforce Center).”
SALES TAX funds
The construction contract for the building was awarded to FCI Constructors in December 2012.
“They were extremely accommodating and good to work with on this project,” Cook said.
Money for the project came from the county’s capital improvement fund. Voters in 1981 approved a measure to set aside half of the county’s 2 percent sales tax to fund strictly capital improvement projects.
“The $7.3 million construction budget was allocated over 2013 and 2014 through our capital improvement project budget, funded solely by the 2 percent voter-approved sales tax,” Cook said.
Of the total Mesa County Department of Human Services budget, the Workforce Center comprises 27 percent, when the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care and Employment First programs are included, county spokeswoman Angeline Roles said.
Hilltop Community Resources, which leased the old Workforce Center complex to the county, has already posted a for sale sign on its property at 2897 North Ave.