As our communities attempt to recover from COVID-19 and the state government shutdowns from this past year, one important local player is the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. The Pikes Peak Workforce Center covers El Paso County and Teller county. The center has done great work in support of our residents getting back to work and, for many, getting the training and certifications needed to improve their employment opportunities.
I was notified this past week that our local workforce center would not receive a commensurate share of state funds from the governor and Legislature’s recently signed bill, HB21-1264. Unfortunately, as the state demonstrated this year by shortchanging El Paso County of its proper allocation of COVID-19 vaccines, the state and the governor are again proceeding forth with a model that prioritizes Denver and Boulder-area residents over El Paso County and the Pikes Peak region.
Last week, I sent the governor an email with my concerns regarding this issue but have yet to receive a reply from his office. As always, it is my hope that the concerns can be addressed quickly and cordially. My primary goal now, as it was last week, is for the state to simply provide the appropriate support to our residents based upon calculations and factors that are equitable across the state.
El Paso County and Teller County combined amount to nearly 13% of the state’s population, but our Pikes Peak Workforce Center was informed it would receive only 8.8% of the allocation set aside for all workforce centers. Denver County will receive 19.2% of the workforce center funds, more than double that of El Paso and Teller combined and far above its proportion of the state population.
I am disappointed the state would distribute funds at a level nearly a third less than our population warrants. Additionally, I request that this newly implemented funding model be reviewed and revised by the Colorado Workforce Development Council. At the same time, I want to thank our workforce center staff members for the effort they have done with allocated funds for our residents and publicize some of their accomplishments, working on your behalf. Your Pikes Peak Workforce Center provided direct support to individuals by assisting over 58,000 people in Program Year 2020 (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) and provided workshops to 6,345 attendees. They implemented “UpSkill Pikes Peak,” an online learning management system to help job seekers gain the skills that employers need before hiring them. This included upskilling over 1,000 health care workers in our three main hospital systems.
Additionally, the workforce center assisted in our regional recovery through support to 65 of the region’s key child care agencies/programs with funds to keep running — including supporting 376 workers, who provided child care for 1,862 children so 1,333 parents and families could continue to work and support their families. And the center provided assistance to more than 1,700 businesses, hosted nearly 100 hiring events and job fairs, the most in the state, and granted funds to 32 companies to upskill over 244 of their employees. Efforts promoting sector partnerships — in the automotive, construction, health care and retail/hospitality industries — provided creative ways to develop the talent pipeline. The center’s ongoing work during this period of recovery from the state shutdowns has indeed improved lives in our community and helps strengthen our local economy and vitality. For those residents seeking additional information or how to utilize services from the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, please visit https://ppwfc.org.
These efforts are but some of the work being done on your behalf. And I ask the governor that he and his administration treat and fund our Pikes Peak Workforce Center and residents appropriately. As I did when we successfully fought for our share of vaccine doses for residents requesting them, I will continue to advocate for our region so that local residents receive the fair and equitable treatment expected by all Coloradans. Our residents deserve nothing less.
Longinos Gonzalez Jr. is an El Paso County commissioner representing District 4.