PENDLETON - Area legislators voiced support Monday for developing a community college-based workforce development plan that worked to perfection in Iowa, providing money for community colleges to train employees without cost to the employer or state.

State Sens. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, and Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, joined Reps. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, and Greg Smith, R-Heppner, to hear a presentation by Art Hill, Blue Mountain Community College vice president for customized training.

The program would give community colleges the authority to float bonds to provide training for businesses which locate in or expand employment in Oregon. The income tax generated by the new workers would be diverted to the community college to pay off the bonded debt.

Proponents say the program costs the employer nothing, generates new revenue for the community college and costs the state nothing for the period taxes are diverted because without the program, there would be no new income taxes.

"This is a program that could be a deal maker," BMCC President Travis Kirkland said. "Often a trained workforce is key to a company's decision, and this program allows us to say, 'we can do this for you.'"

The legislators agreed they needed to start informing the legislative counsel and the directors of revenue and finance to begin building the foundation for implementing new legislation.

"We need to see the LC right away and make sure this kind of thing can be done in Oregon," Jenson said.

Also on hand Monday were Kim Puzy, director of the Port of Umatilla, and Gary Neal, director of the Port of Morrow.

"Training is huge in economic development, especially in this incentive-driven region," Neal told the group.

Bill Burns of Keystone RV Co. in Pendleton pointed out that having a trained workforce was instrumental to his company's recent decision to expand, creating 100 new jobs.

Clint Morrison, chief operating officer of Behlan Manufacturing in Baker, told the group that training could be the deciding factor in expanding a company in Eastern Oregon. Bethan manufactures water tanks and corrals.

Dennis and Pamela Wilkinson, owners of Omnitrac in La Grande, let the lawmakers know how important this plan could be for the region.

"You hear all the time about out-sourcing," Pamela Wilkinson said. "It's the high tech industries that are out-sourcing, those of us in manufacturing need this kind of incentive."

The proposed program is patterned after Iowa's "New Jobs Training Program 260E," which, from 1998 through 2002 trained some 35,000 new workers from 360 projects at a price of $155 million.

Steve Oval is the legislative liaison for Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids today, but in 1983 when the Iowa 260E was first adopted, he was doing for Kirkwood what Art Hill does for BMCC.

"We were in a significant recession back then," Oval said. "We had been hit hard by closures."

Oval said the beauty of the New Jobs training program was that it didn't require any upfront investment. "Like now, states such as Iowa and Oregon are really suffering, and it's impossible to get seed money for economic development incentives, but this program is self funded."

Oval said here are some arguments for centralizing the bonding at the state level, primarily the ability to get better interest rates, but he said the local bond issues have worked well in Iowa because the final guarantee to the bond holder is the community college's ability to levy a property tax to ensure payment of the principle and interest.

Through the years, Iowa schools have developed the ability to manage their bonded indebtedness to prevent ever needing the taxing authority. "But it's there, and that gives the investor the confidence to buy the bonds," Oval said.

He has worked with several other states to spread the word on this model. He is currently working with New Mexico, and has worked with Missouri, Kansas and North Dakota. An effort to implement the program in Illinois failed because of the political issues in the state, he said.

He said there are 15 community colleges in Iowa, with his the biggest at 15,000 students. The two smallest are at about 1,200 students. They have all used the program.

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