Sunday, October 2, 2022

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Alamance County second-guesses plan to join massive, new workforce development board

A state-level plan to consolidate North Carolina’s regional workforce development boards has run into a bit of a hiccup in Alamance County, where officials are now giving some thought to a proposal that could see them move in the other direction.

Earlier this week, the county’s board of commissioners agreed to put off a decision on their state-sanctioned “realignment” into a 12-county consortium in response to an offer from the chairman of a new workforce development board that currently serves only Guilford County.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Harley Garrison of the Starr Electric Company in Greensboro, approached the commissioners with an invitation to join Guilford’s one-county organization.

“Our board is not intentionally trying to grow or expand. This is purely organic,” he told Alamance County’s elected leaders during a designated public comment period that morning.

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“My employees are going back and forth from Alamance County to Guilford County and Randolph County…and we would love to have the space and time to have some conversations to see if this makes sense for the good folks of Alamance County.”

Garrison extended this overture in lieu of another, earlier offer that Alamance County’s commissioners had received from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC), a local government advocacy group that has cobbled together its own 12-county workforce development board in line with the state’s goal of consolidation.

Last month, officials from Raleigh had approached Alamance County’s leaders in support of the regional council’s proposal, which they urged the commissioners to accept by September 15. The commissioners were consequently scheduled to vote on the PTRC’s offer on Tuesday – a plan that was ultimately thrown for a loop by Garrison’s last-minute offer.

Meanwhile, Garrison’s invitation received an added shot in the arm from Randy Perkins, who chairs the five county workforce development board that presently serves Alamance County.

Randy Perkins

During Tuesday’s public comment period, Perkins urged Alamance County’s commissioners to consider Garrison’s proposal as a viable alternative to the PTRC’s offer. Perkins added that, if the commissioners do go ahead and join the 12-county confab, they should at least get some assurance that the regional council will retain Alamance County’s local employment office and the staff members who work for his board. Perkins also enjoined the commissioners to “recognize” the contributions of their own representatives on his own five-county body.

In response to Perkins’ first two entreaties, Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, insisted that he and his colleagues had already received some affirmation from the regional council about the county’s existing workforce development infrastructure.

Alamance County commissioner Steve Carter

“We were assured the location would remain open and staffing would remain constant,” he said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Dolge, the PTRC’s executive director, addressed Alamance County’s prospective representation on the workforce development board that he and his colleagues have organized.

Matthew Dolge

“You get a number of seats based on population,” he explained, “but some of our members may give up seats to make sure we have a good mix on the board.”

Dolge went on to inform the commissioners that the regional council has already secured commitments from jurisdictions as far afield as Surry County. He added that Davidson County is the latest addition to his burgeoning consortium, while negotiations are still underway with Randolph County in addition to Alamance.

Yet, in the final analysis, Garrison’s proposal proved tempting enough for Alamance County’s commissioners to put off their scheduled decision on joining the regional council’s consortium.

“I understand that the administrative costs are higher as you have smaller groups of counties,” commissioner Craig Turner told the rest of the group. “But Alamance County and Surry County are very different. I know we’ve delayed this, and we don’t like to keep delaying things, but I think it makes sense to wait two weeks. . . to make sure we have looked at all of our options.”

“I truly believe that time is on our side considering that this doesn’t go into effect until July of 2023,” agreed commissioner Bill Lashley. “Even if it drags out another 30 days, I think we’ll be fine.”

The commissioners ultimately agreed to postpone their vote until their next meeting on September 19 after the possibility drew no objections from Alamance County’s manager Heidi York.

“My understanding,” York told the commissioners, “is that the [state’s] deadline of Sept. 15 was not firm. They were just encouraging the board to make a decision by then.”

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