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Companies in Erie County will soon be able to tap into training dollars from six different sources by filing one application.

The joint process is being finalized by a consortium of local agencies controlling most federal and state training dollars in the county. The collaborative approach is hailed by economic development officials as a major step toward tearing down parochial walls and providing "one-stop" service to industry.

"We don't want employers being bounced all over Buffalo anymore," said James Finamore, head of the Workforce Investment Board, a newly formed training agency administering more than $35 million of state and federal training grants locally.

The joint effort includes the Workforce Investment Board, Empire State Development Corporation, Erie County, WNY Works, Erie Community College, and Erie One BOCES.

Local companies historically dealt separately with each funding source when seeking training grants.

"You needed to have somewhere between a seeing eye dog and a road map to find where your particular needs could be met," said Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Companies seeking training funds to either create or retain jobs will now file a single application, which will be reviewed by a committee with representatives from each agency.

The joint approach sets up the potential for syndicated funding, with various organizations pooling money to help meet a company's training needs.

"We'll look at the company's application, we'll look at the program requirements and the funding sources. Then
we'll structure the deal," said Ronald W. Coan, chair of the Workforce Investment Board subcommittee creating the new application process.

Applications will be judged on an objective scoring process evaluating companies based on the money being invested in their local facilities and jobs retained and created. The new funding process should be operating by the end of March, said Coan, who is also executive director of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

The collaborative effort comes at a time when new money is available to train people who already have jobs.

The Workforce Investment Board was created by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a federal law replacing the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). While the JTPA focused on services to the poor and hard-core unemployed, the WIA provides federal dollars to train employed citizens for higher-skilled work.

"From where I sit, as a long-time employment and training manager, that's the single biggest change," Finamore said. "When you open this up to employed workers, now you're going way beyond what has ever been the responsibility of federally funded training."

The state also created a $34 million program last year, called the Strategic Training Alliance Program, to "promote skills upgrading for incumbent workers." About a dozen local companies, including Account Solutions Group and Cognigen Corp. of Amherst, have launched new training programs with the state money.

The new state and federal funding could help many Buffalo area workers transition into computer networking jobs and other service based careers.

"I think the combination of the STRAP program and the Workforce Investment Act makes us much better prepared to respond to the training needs of the workplace," said Luke Rich, regional director of the Empire State Development Corp.

Rich said the cooperation developing among the multiple agencies is a "major step forward."

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