RIVERTON -- The U.S. Department of Labor has signed a five-year, $41 million deal with a Utah company to operate the new Wind River Job Corps center here.

The deal represents the culmination of a decade-long push to build a Job Corps center in Wyoming, the only state in the nation to lack such a facility. The center will provide education and job training to disadvantaged youth from Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region. 

"It is so important because we have a population of students in Wyoming that have not been served," said Sandy Barton, executive director of the Fremont County Board for Cooperative Education Services, which spearheaded the effort to build the center. 

Management and Training Corp., of Centerville, Utah, was selected by the Labor Department to operate the residential program on a newly constructed campus near the Riverton airport. The company operates 21 Job Corps centers nationwide. 

The firm was chosen on the basis of its past performance, technical approach, staffing and cost, said Egan Reich, a spokesman for the Labor Department. He said the government could not disclose the number of companies that applied to operate the center. 

“Job Corps is the nation’s premiere residential, job-training program and will be a significant asset to the state," John Pedersen, a Management and Training Corp. executive, said in a statement. "This center will be the first in the country to provide training in the energy industry, offering a petroleum technician program in partnership with oil and gas companies in the area.”

Marathon Oil, Conoco Phillips, Devon Energy and Encana Corp. helped design a curriculum geared at preparing students for work in the oilfield, Barton said. 

The campus includes a mock oil and gas field.  

"A major part of it is lifestyles," Barton. "They have to learn the lifestyle of the oil and gas field. They’ll be out there when it's minus 40. They’ll have the clothes. They should come out with eight certifications."

Other training fields will include diesel mechanics, construction, facilities maintenance, welding, office administration and accounting. 

The Job Corps program was established in 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." 

The Wind River center will serve students from families below the federal poverty limit. It is expected to serve up to 300 students between the ages of 16 and 24, most of whom will live in two dorms on the Riverton campus. 

Classes are free. Wyoming students will be given first preference, but pupils from other Rocky Mountain states can apply if there are unfilled slots. 

Wyoming has a large population of high school dropouts who will be helped by the center, Barton said. Homeless youth and children aging out of foster care also will benefit, she said. 

"We needed a different pathway for students when public school couldn't meet those needs," Barton said. 

Construction on the six building campus was completed in April. Classes are expected to begin later this year. 

The center still faces several logistical hurdles before classes can begin. A staff of between 100 and 120 people needs to be hired. Furniture must be moved in.   

But the center today is poised to open, something that once seemed far from certain, said Barton. 

Barton first was approached about the idea of establishing a Job Corps center in 2005. It took two years to put together the application to the federal government. In 2008, after a concerted lobby effort by Sen. Mike Enzi, funding for the Wyoming center was approved.

Enzi hailed the news Monday, saying the deal with Management and Training Corp. brings the center one step closer to reality. He said it would ensure Wyoming citizens receive the training needed to be competitive in today's workforce. 

"These students will learn to grow their skills to land high paying 21st century jobs in these essential sectors of our state’s economy," Enzi said. "Wyoming has employers ready to hire skilled graduates right now and this center will train students here in Wyoming to fill those positions.”

Follow energy reporter Benjamin Storrow on Twitter @bstorrow

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