Evers announces $2.9 million for Southwest Tech workforce development efforts

FENNIMORE, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers today announced $2.9 million in grant funding for workforce development efforts at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore.

Evers visited the Southwest Tech campus to announce the funding, which is part of a second round of Workforce Innovation Grants being awarded across the state.

“These are exactly, exactly the type of projects we were thinking of when we created this (grant) program … to encourage communities to work together to develop long-term solutions,” Evers told the crowd of more than 50 people who gathered for the announcement.

The grant will be used for Southwest Tech’s Advance Southwest Wisconsin project, which is expected to help businesses train more than 500 employees, hire more than 300 people and promote dozens of current workers over the next three years. The project cost will be about $3.3 million, which also includes about $445,000 in matching and in-kind funds, a press release states.

Southwest Tech Director of Grants Amy Seeboth-Wilson said the college will use the money to bolster the area’s manufacturing workforce. The plan is to offer free job-site and upscale training as well as strengthen partnerships with local schools and businesses.

“Today’s news will support us in continuing to do awesome things for our students,” said Southwest Tech President Jason Wood.

Some of the funding will go toward supporting high school apprenticeships in manufacturing and science, technology, engineering and math fields. Another portion will go to University of Wisconsin-Platteville for the creation of a faculty position focused on automation.

Seeboth-Wilson said another major focus will be uplifting those who have struggled to break into the manufacturing workforce in the past, such as women and people of color.

“Everybody’s been so excited,” she said. “For a small, rural region like ours, this grant has the potential to reshape the face of who we are.”

Wisconsin recently set a record for the number of people employed in the state, and the May unemployment rate was below the national average at 2.9%. Evers celebrated these statistics but said the story doesn’t end there.

“Economic development is more than just job numbers,” he said.

One goal of the Workforce Innovation Grant Program is to help the state recover from the economic and workforce impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pandemic restrictions constricted job opportunities and prompted many workers to retire early. Now, companies nationwide are struggling to recruit workers to refill those spots. 

“We know that Wisconsin has a worker quantity challenge like the rest of the Midwest,” said Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. “Those pressures really mean we have to look at our remaining talent pools in our state and remove those barriers that folks still face to re-enter the workforce.”

Also on Thursday, Evers announced grant funding for apprenticeship programs at the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and for supporting students from the Wisconsin Heights School District who want to pursue a job in education. 

Those grants and others awarded through the program are meant to reduce barriers that keep people from having what Evers called “good, family-supporting” jobs.

“Whether it’s housing or transportation or child care, all those things play a role in whether people can be active in the economy as workers,” Evers told the Telegraph Herald. “It’s all connected.”