HAZARD — Local community and government leaders met last week at Hazard City Hall to take the next step in what could be the initiative that helps Perry County get back on its feet after being hit with economic hardships in the last two years.
The Kentucky Work Ready Community program was started in an effort to help all counties in the state be able to attract employers to their area by proving each county has the needed workforce to sustain a healthy business in that area.
“If we have the people and we can show that we have the people, then businesses don’t really have a reason not to come here,” said Melissa Quillen, a regional program manager with the state Office of Employment and Training.
The program consists of an application process in which the county must prove that it has met all of the standards to become a certified Work Ready community, including high school graduation rates, community commitment, soft skills measurement, and Internet availability. The county must then reapply every two years in order to prove it is maintaining its certification. An application was already submitted earlier this year through the initiative to show Perry County has interest in the program, making it a Work Ready in Progress community.
Ron Daley, Hazard Community and Technical College’s (HCTC) senior director of advancement, said the initiative is being led by the Appalachian Teaching and Learning Network (ATLN) and local area development districts which include 13 counties in Southeastern Kentucky.
“While you cannot be designated as a work ready region (by the program), our goal is that we’re going to be successful in all 13 counties so that we can then market ourselves as a work ready community region,” Daley told the group on Wednesday.
Daley said this certification and marketing plan would not only shine a more positive light on the region, but would also attract the attention of employers from across the nation.
Quillen said the reason the meeting was called for the local leaders to come together was to get the ball rolling in the application process and to make sure that nothing was overlooked.
“These criteria seem insurmountable to a group of four or five, but if we have a group of four or five or two or three to work on each criteria then it seems doable,” she said. “We’re all thought to be illiterate and poor — we need to change that.”
Jennifer Lindon, learning services dean with KCTCS, said she, along with Daley, Quillen, and the other leaders in the initiative, thought it was a better idea to have every facet of the community involved in the process.
“It is more than just trying to get this started. It’s a pooling of our resources and finding out all of the things we have going on in the community,” Lindon said. “It is us united together as a community for a common cause. This is a bigger picture than that we want to get this certification.”
Midway through the meeting the group was split into focus groups on each of the six criteria. Daley said if all goes well there might even be another criteria added to the process specifically for Perry County.
“You’re not going to have a successful work ready community if you’re not healthy,’ he said. “One of the things that we identified in our preliminary meetings, either we put that in soft skills or we say, we feel like for our community to be even better we want to make it more healthy; we’ve got to be healthy. So, that’s another thing for our group to think about.”
Another issue strongly advocated for was early childhood development. Gerry Roll, executive director for the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, said besides high school graduation rates, preschool programs should be improved in the area, otherwise no other educational areas could improve in the future.
“We talk like children begin to learn in kindergarten,” she said. “Children begin to learn when they’re born. We know now that 80 percent of our children in Perry County are not ready to go to kindergarten. Sort of not amazingly, 80 percent of our kids who go to community college aren’t ready for community college either. There has to be a correlation.”
Roll said she was very willing to work on the issues presented at the meeting in order to have Perry County certified as Work Ready.
“We’ll never fix the problem if we don’t start,” she said.