Dane County Investing $2 Million in Building Expansion with Badger Prairie Needs Network for Job Training Initiative
Initiative Will Focus on Providing Economic Mobility and Financial Stability as Community Looks to Recover from Far-Reaching Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic
Today, County Executive Joe Parisi joined representatives from Badger Prairie Needs Network (BPNN), Latino Academy of Workforce Development, and other community partners to announce that Dane County will invest $2 million to kickstart a new job training initiative and 4,800 square foot expansion at BPNN. Once opened, the site will be used as a gathering space for job training sessions, wellness programming, and the relaunch of BPNN’s popular community meal program on weekends. The partners hope the effort will help the Dane County community and its residents recover from the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are incredibly excited to announce this $2 million investment in BPNN’s building expansion and job training initiative to improve economic mobility and financial stability for more Dane County residents in underserved communities,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “It is through these types of partnerships that we hope to help residents and the Dane County community recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This addition to BPNN will serve as a new hub for community programs and services on the southwest side of Dane County.”
BPNN moved to Verona in 2015, when Dane County leased the former Badger Prairie Health Center Administration building to the organization for its work to support families and to gradually expand its service area. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has dropped service area boundaries in order to help all food-insecure households in Dane County. The $2 million in funding for BPNN’s building expansion will come from Dane County’s local aid allocation of the American Rescue Plan.
The training center will initially focus on underserved communities in Dane County seeking assistance in preparing for and finding work with local employers that offer family-sustaining living-wage jobs in the transportation industry. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession wreaked havoc on these communities, primarily due to multi-generational living situations and being overrepresented in service-industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. This initiative will focus on providing economic mobility and financial stability to program participants.
“The growth of e-commerce has created a growing demand among employers for workers who are trained in the transportation industry and hold CDL licenses,” said Baltazar De Andra Santana, Executive Director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. “Positions in the transportation industry offer higher wages on average than low-wage jobs lost in the pandemic. We are excited to partner with Badger Prairie Needs Network and help create job opportunities for underserved communities in this new space.”
Growth in the transportation industry spiked abruptly in 2020 across multiple industries with the pandemic. Grocery spending in 2020 by Wisconsin consumers increased by 23% and retail spending, including online purchases, increased by 35%. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January 2021 that Latinos accounted for 23 percent of the initial job loss due to the pandemic while making up only 16 percent of the civilian population.
Through this initiative, the partners hope to make the transportation industry more accessible and equitable by strengthening the capacity of the Latino Academy’s transportation-related training program, the only one of its kind in South-Central Wisconsin. It will provide an opportunity for economic advancement for communities of color, which have been historically excluded by traditional programs. The project targets job seekers and potential business entrepreneurs who are unemployed or underemployed.
“This new initiative and partnerships with workforce and economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, and local government offer increased opportunities for community members who have faced significant hardship over the past 15 months,” said Maggie Gleason, Executive Director of the Badger Prairie Needs Network. “Training programs that also respond to the workforce needs of local businesses will provide economic benefit for our entire community.”
The training center at BPNN makes sense for a number of reasons: more than 51% of all individuals served through BPNN are people of color; there are currently no job training programs operating in rural communities in the southwest region of Dane County, and the Latino Academy of Workforce Development is seeking to expand its reach.
Other organizations partnering with BPNN and the Latino Academy in this effort include Workforce Development Board of South-Central Wisconsin, WorkSmart Network, Fitchburg Chamber of Commerce, City of Fitchburg Office of Economic Development, Verona Area Chamber of Commerce, Office of the Verona City Administrator, and the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County.
BPNN will also relaunch its free community meals in the new space. The popular meal site closed during the pandemic and the old community space was used to expand the food pantry. It will be offered on Saturdays to fill the meal gap when school lunch and senior meal programs are not available.
A resolution to approve Dane County’s $2 million investment in this building expansion at BPNN will be introduced to the County Board in the coming weeks.