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August 31, 2004

Gov. Blagojevich announces important workforce training grants to strengthen steelworker skills and boost competitiveness of steel industry in southwest region

GRANITE CITY – Continuing his efforts to build a more highly-skilled, dynamic workforce across the Southwest region and throughout the state, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today awarded $513,500 in Opportunity Returns workforce training grants that will enhance the skills of approximately 750 steelworkers at US Steel in Granite City and Alton Steel, two major steel companies whose competitiveness is critical to the vitality of the regional economy.  Opportunity Returns is the Governor’s comprehensive, pro-active plan designed to spur economic development and widespread job growth.
“To achieve our goal of building a world-class workforce in Illinois, we need to form partnerships with employers that help them teach their workers the latest technologies, provide the highest quality insurance standards, and strive to continually improve the overall caliber of their labor force.  These training grants recognize that US Steel and Alton Steel understand their needs the best and will allow them to upgrade the skills of their workforce and stay competitive in the constantly changing global economy.  By investing in their goals, we invest in our own: a workforce that is second to none and a robust regional economy with more widespread opportunity,” Governor Blagojevich said.
$163,500 is being awarded to the AFL-CIO to train approximately 400 workers at US Steel’s Granite City facility in skills such as welding, crane work, teamwork skills, industrial maintenance and on-going basic training at the steel mill.  Alton Steel in Alton is receiving $350,000 to sharpen the skills of 350 employees in areas such as electrical training, safety, quality, and continuous improvement.
The grants are being awarded through the Employer Training Investment Program, a new generation of employer-focused, customized training grants created through the “21st Century Jobs” Training Initiative.  The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) administers the ETIP grants, which reimburse companies and organizations for up to 50% of the costs of training their employees.   
“The Opportunity Returns plan is intended to restore economic opportunity and create new jobs by making targeted investments that will pay important dividends.  By investing in employer training initiatives, like these at US Steel and Alton Steel, we are laying the foundation for a more competitive local economy that will create more jobs,” Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) said.
“Governor Blagojevich and I are keenly aware of the tremendous impact US Steel and Alton Steel have on our region.  These training grants will help ensure that our workers have all of the necessary skills to excel in this important industry,” said Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-Belleville).
Through Opportunity Returns, the Employer Training Investment Program has invested almost $1.8 million in the Southwest region in Fiscal Year 2004 to train 8,200 employees at large, mid-sized and small companies alike.
“Manufacturers in Southwestern Illinois like US and Alton Steel must be armed with all of the necessary tools to compete in this global economy.  Training our workers to use the most advanced and innovative technologies is essential for these businesses to survive and thrive.  Through these kinds of training grants, Governor Blagojevich is ensuring that our workforce will continue to act as our greatest asset in creating jobs and economic growth,” said DCEO Director Jack Lavin. 
In another major development sure to boost commerce and economic activity in the Southwest region, Governor Blagojevich announced an agreement with the City of St. Louis to invest $40 million in revamping the McKinley Bridge.  The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will move forward on rehabilitating the McKinley Bridge to cars, bikes and pedestrians.  IDOT is expected to put the project out for bid later this year, and expects to reopen the bridge for traffic in the summer of 2007.  The McKinley Bridge has been closed since October 30, 2001.
The Opportunity Returns regional economic development plan is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history.  Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – finding areas with common economic strengths and needs, and developing a plan with specific actions for each region.  This grassroots effort for the Southwestern region is a product of significant outreach over several months with business, civic and labor leaders, and elected officials.  Opportunity Returns contains tangible actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to business.  The projects that the Governor announced in December for Southwest Illinois are designed to be flexible and effective.  This plan is tailored to deliver real results that local businesses will see, feel, and, hopefully, profit from.


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