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Workforce Initiative Association Awarded $190,000 for BRN Expansion

12 July 2019

The Workforce Initiative Association, operator of the OhioMeansJobs Centers in Stark and Tuscarawas Counties and the Ohio Business Resource Network (OBRN), recently was awarded a grant of $190,000 from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation for the BRN Tristate Expansion project.

Developed in 2009 in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Counties and later expanded to 16 counties in Ohio in 2012 with the help of a $6 million Department of Labor grant, the BRN establishes a new way of doing business—a collaborative philosophy moving from transactional services to a disciplined and consistent partnership structure. Involving the public workforce system, economic development organizations, and education and training providers, it connects multiple systems to create a seamless service delivery system to deliver more effective and efficient business services, facilitating coordination of outreach and services and resources across programs and funding streams in order to provide coordinated solutions to businesses.

In 2017, with the assistance of an Appalachian Regional Commission planning grant, OBRN staff began to meet with workforce development boards from northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to consider expansion of the BRN across state lines, particularly to help those companies that operate in the shared economy of the Ohio River. Five Pennsylvania workforce boards and two West Virginia boards have agreed to adopt the program in their regions. The foundation grant dollars were awarded to the Workforce Initiative Association to provide the technical assistance and coordination of the tristate expansion efforts.

“From the beginning Jim Denova and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation have been a key partner at the table working with us on ways to take a proven model and concept like the BRN across state lines”, said Matt Falter, OBRN Project Director. “For them, it made sense to take a best practice in workforce development and invest in our Ohio team to provide the training and technical assistance with our neighbors in West Virginia and Pennsylvania vs. reinventing the wheel”.

A key part of the interstate strategy is to help multiple businesses seek new markets and business contracts. They also will work closely with regional manufacturing extension partnerships, which, under Appalachian Regional Commission funding, are mapping new suppliers and clients for manufacturing firms that traditionally relied on the coal industry. The BRN also supports the Tristate State Shale Coalition’s efforts to grow the energy related manufacturing sector in the region.

“The Benedum Foundation takes a regional perspective and strives to create collaboration across state lines”, said Jim Denova, Vice President at the Benedum Foundation. “Public agencies cannot easily step out of their jurisdictions, but private philanthropy can. This is an example of a very successful program that will benefit the workforce agencies and businesses in West Virginia and Southwestern PA. This partnership recognizes the single economy and single labor shed of the eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. Employers hire from this region regardless of state affiliation, so making BRN available to companies in the same region only makes sense”.

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