Workforce center finds new home; County provides space as federal funds shrink

Colfax County is providing a new home to a workforce-development entity so it can continue to provide education and resources to people trying to find jobs and to local businesses looking for qualified workers.

The Colfax Workforce Development Center is run by SER (Service, Employment and Redevelopment) Jobs for Progress, the contractor that provides the services for the Northern Area Local Workforce Development Board (NALWDB), which was created, along with other state regional boards, under the federal Workforce Investment Act that came into being a number of years ago.

Budget cutbacks due to federal sequestration this year left the local Workforce Development Center facing the likelihood of closing as federal funding was reduced. Adrian Ortiz, executive director of the NALWDB that serves 10 New Mexico counties, said the center was “in dire straits.” He and other officials involved with the center indicated the center would have to shut down at the end of June — the end of the fiscal year — if a new location with a reduced cost was not found.

A request for office space for the workforce center was made last month to the Colfax County commission, which, after more specifics were added to an agreement, this week approved leasing space in the county building to the center. The center had been leasing office space in a section of a privately owned building at the south end of the Doña Ana Shopping Center in Raton.

The lease with the county does not call for any cash payment from the workforce center but instead requires the center to provide certain services in exchange for use of the county office space. The services include computer workstations, virtual job-search sites, skill assessment tools and assistance with career planning and social skills for job seekers. In addition, the center — which is manned by a part-time “career development/business specialist” — is to provide free training workshops for county employees on topics such as leadership, management, supervision, ethics, and human resources.

The lease agreement allows either party to terminate the agreement by giving a 30-day notice to the other. The agreement was approved for one year with an automatic renewal for another year.

Beginning July 1, the workforce center is to occupy the county building space on the first floor that used to be home to the county manager’s office before it moved to the third floor of the building.

In presenting the request to the county commission late last month, Ortiz said the 10-county NALWDB’s budget of $14 million in 2000 had been reduced to about $2.3 million this current fiscal year and was set to drop a little more to $2.1 million in the fiscal year that begins in July. Without finding new resources to counter the funding reductions, the workforce center would continue to have a “shrinking footprint” in Colfax County and the region, Ortiz said.

Joe Rodman, the lone employee at the Raton center, said the service “plays a critical role” in trying to give people job-seeking skills, as well as match employers with potential employees. He said he receives “job orders” from local employers seeking workers. He then sends job seekers who have registered with the center to interview for jobs that match their “skill sets” and “aptitudes.”

Alex Martinez, executive director of SER-Jobs for Progress, said the program provided at the center aims to “try to understand the needs of businesses” and tries to find “the right fit” when pairing employers and potential employees.

The workforce center has been at its Doña Ana Shopping Center location for a little more than a year. Prior to that, it shared a leased space on South Second Street with the local office of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. When the state agency pulled its office from Raton at the end of 2011, the NALWDB’s workforce center was financially unable to handle the lease payments on its own.