Ontario County OED Fills Gap, Funds On-the-Job Training Program

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Future Forest employee is one of a dozen workers benefiting from pilot program —

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y., April 8, 2010 — Nine months after graduating from college in the throes of a tough economy, Honeoye resident Cameron Wohlschlegel, 22, has finally landed his dream job. He started working as a forest technician with Future Forest Consulting, a Naples-based forest management firm, on Feb. 1.

Wohlschlegel, who worked as a tree technician to make ends meet after graduation, said his new position gives him an opportunity to finally use his degree. He earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) last May.

“Ever since I started, it’s been a learning experience and it’s been great,” he said.

Wohlschlegel is among 12 local workers benefiting from a pilot program between the Ontario County Office of Economic Development’s Revolving Loan Fund and Finger Lakes Works/Ontario County Workforce Development. The program was instituted last October when federal grants for on-the-job training had been expended. The federal funds had been provided through the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board’s On the Job Training Program for several years, but that program quickly dried up in the fall of 2009.

To keep the on-the-job training going, the county’s Revolving Loan Fund stepped up to fill the gap, contributing $50,000 to Finger Lakes Works’ Ontario County Workforce Development office. Since then, approximately $47,700 of the $50,000 has been granted to six Ontario County-based companies — including Hartmann’s Old World Sausage and BARS Precision — to entice them to either make new hires or retrain existing employees for new positions. To qualify, companies must show that the trainees will learn new skills that they did not previously possess.

Finger Lakes Works Director Brian Young, who oversees the program along with Business Services Representative Kathy Bailey, said companies like the program because the funds directly supplement the employees’ salaries for a short-term period, helping companies make the financial case they need to move forward with a new hire or the retraining of an existing employee.

“Without these funds enticing them, these companies would delay making any new hires — or not make them at all,” Young said.

Future Forest co-founders Corey Figueiredo and Scott Graham, both SUNY ESF alums, said they wanted to make a new hire but could not make the financial case to justify it — until, of course, they learned about Finger Lakes Works’ on-the-job training program.

“With the program, we were able to mitigate the financial risk of making a new hire and added Cameron to our team,” Graham said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to create a new job and hire a fellow ESF alum to fill it.”

Mike Manikowski, Economic Developer of Ontario County’s Office of Economic Development, which works directly with the county’s Revolving Loan Fund, said he is working with Finger Lakes Works to secure additional funding for Ontario County as well as the three other counties — Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties — that are members of the Finger Lakes Workforce Investment Board (WIB), which oversees the Finger Lakes Works operation. This is especially important since the $50,000 in initial funding is going fast.

“In just five months, our $50,000 pilot program helped five local companies create 10 new jobs for 10 new employees and helped a sixth local company retrain two existing employees for new positions,” said Manikowski, who also serves as a WIB board member. “This on-the-job training program is exactly the kind of program we should be funding in the midst of a tough economy. If the federal government can’t fund it or won’t fund it anymore, then local governments and New York State should step up and help fill the gap.”

Future Forest currently manages more than 70,000 acres of forest and woodlands throughout the Southern Tier and North Country regions of New York State. The company manages privately owned properties ranging in size from as little as 5 acres up to more than 2,500 acres. In addition to actual land management, Future Forest also provides consulting services, helping landowners reduce county, town and school taxes (up to 80 percent on parcels of 50 acres or more) and federal property improvement grants. More information can be found at http://www.futureforestinc.com.

For more information about the county’s Revolving Loan Fund, please contact the County’s Office of Economic Development at 585-396-4460 or visit http://www.ontariocountydev.org. For more information about Finger Lakes Works, please call 585-396-4020 or visit http://www.fingerlakesworks.com.