- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a trio of bills into law Monday to overhaul the state’s workforce education programs, a move he said will better coordinate agency efforts and help the state’s chances in competing for economic development projects.

The Republican governor, who ran last year partly on a promise to improve the state’s workforce training initiatives, called the measures “one of the greatest accomplishments” of the legislative session that wrapped up last week.

“This is one of the crying needs of our state, to drive economic development, to make sure that we compete with our other national partners of states in terms of recruiting industry and to support the existing industry we have,” Hutchinson said during a ceremony to sign the bills at the Capitol. “To do that, we had to have a more robust system of jobs skill training that matches the need of industry.”

The measures signed into law include the creation of 10 regional boards around the state to help determine job training needs and the establishment of competitive grants for various economic development efforts.

One of the measures reorganizes the Career Education Board, renaming it the Career Education and Workforce Development Board, and expanding the panel from seven to 13 members appointed by the governor and recommended by various industry groups. The measure also creates an “office of skills development” within the Department of Career Education that would award grants for workforce training programs.

Hutchinson said there’s about $15 million available for the grant programs, and another $2 million in discretionary money that will go toward the Department of Higher Education for two-year colleges to help with the programs.

“The money is going to flow to those programs that work, and that is the critical element to make sure this is successful,” Hutchinson said.

Supporters of the changes said the measures would improve coordination among the several departments working on workforce training initiatives.

“We want to be sensitive to the changing needs of business and industry, the changing needs of our employees, as well as academia,” said Daryl Bassett, director of the state Department of Workforce Services.


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