Grants boost training, job hunt for laid-off
“Like a lot of other guys, I thought I’d make a career at Alcoa,” he said at Friday’s ceremonial check presentation of a $2.5-million in grants to help retrain workers and help them find jobs. “But what an opportunity—to do something new and get college paid for.”
Skrhak was among a handful of former Alcoans and contractor workers who showed for the ceremony at the Central Texas Workforce offices in One-Stop Center. Congressman John Carter and Texas Workforce Commission Division Director Larry Jones signed the checks which will fund the workforce center for more training and help those laid off recoup some training expenses.
“This is one of the tragedies this town has had to deal with, and it’s a huge bump in the road for the workers,” Carter said. “But this money will help train these workers for new jobs and get them over that bump.”
Carter said he hoped the smelter would start up again and called the closure of the aluminum company base after a 56-year tenure “a huge loss.”
“But we’re a resilient people and this money will just give a little hand and try to get these workers going again.”
The larger of two grants, the (up to) $2.2 million “National Emergency Grant,” was funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package. While Carter voted against the stimulus bill last year, he was clearly pleased to direct some funds to the area.
TWC’s Jones said it will help the area stem the tide of some workers leaving the area.
“When we have layoffs, particularly in a rural area, it’s a travesty. It affects individual lives and the communit y,” Jones said. “I remember in Wichita Falls after a plant closure and there were six families that left the area. That’s six families that won’t return and work there and benefit that town.”
After working at the smelter for over 16 years, Danny Ramirez thought he would retire from Alcoa, just like his father had done. But the layoff news forced a change in career plans.
“The help from the workforce has really opened doors for us,” he said. Ramirez is studying Environmental Health and Safety at Texas State Technical College in Waco. He should be certified in less than a year, then he hopes to get a job with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the Environmental Protection Agency’s Austin office.
“I would rather work in Rockdale, make no mistake, but I could commute to Austin and at least we can keep our family here. My parents are here and my wife’s parents live here, so we want to stay,” he said.
Priscilla Pearson said that, at age 63, she had “really given up” finding another good job locally. “I worked for a contractor and thought I would have to just retire and start taking my Social Security money early,” she said. “But I wanted to be in the medical field and I am studying to be a pharmacy technician.”
Nate Harper, added that the funds provided “a great opportunity for me. When one person is helped, it betters the whole community.”
The “REV-UP” grant will be “an opportunity for individuals and communities to reinvent themselves,” said Jim Reed, director of the Central Texas Council of Governments.
“This grant clears the way for a group of citizen leaders to take the next step, study the situation and apply for a Department of Commerce grant,” Reed said.
After Alcoa’s closure news was announced, Reed and County Judge Frank Summers scrambled to assemble town-hall-type meetings in Rockdale, Cameron and Thorndale, to see what direction the towns, and county as a whole, could take to try and replace 1,100 jobs in a county with a population of about 27,000.
Summers said since that time, his attitude has been “this, too, shall pass.” He said the grants would help with economic development possibilities as well.
Workforce Centers Director Jerry Haisler commended the local office and staff, who he said had been working since the day layoffs were announced.
Workers who are still looking for jobs may contact the local Central Texas Workforce office at 512-446-6440.