Construction of the Wind River Job Corps Center, Wyoming’s first job corps site, is expected to start this spring, despite the town of Riverton parting ways with a lobbyist for the project.
The project, originally slated to open in 2011, has been pushed back for several reasons, including some snags in projects ahead of Wyoming’s, said Sandy Barton, executive director of Fremont County Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Sen. Mike Enzi’s office reported last week that the Department of Labor said construction should start in the spring, Barton said. Construction is expected to take about 18 months and the center should open about 90 days after construction ends, Barton said.
The announcement came the same week the Riverton City Council decided to part ways with LRG, a lobbying group it hired in 2008 to help expedite the project, said Mayor Ron Warpness.
The company and the city parted on “very good terms,” he said.
Riverton paid the company about $260,000 but hadn’t seen any progress, due to what Warpness thinks is political infighting in Washington, not because of a fault with the company, he said. LRG acted as the project’s advocate in Washington.
“We’re in Wyoming, which is a long ways from Washington,” he said.
A Job Corps site in Wyoming, and specifically Fremont County, has been talked about for years, Warpness said. The project, which is supported by a variety of partners, will help the state, not just Riverton, provide jobs and train future employees.
“We have an energy industry in Wyoming that is crying for trained individuals,” Warpness said. “It’s a good fit all around.”
The Department of Labor appropriated funds for the project in 2007. “But they have been remiss in wanting to release those funds until they know what the future looks like for them economically, is the way I read it,” Warpness said.
A Labor Department spokesman said the agency would have no comment on the project.
In 2005, Barton started working toward creating a Job Corps site in Wyoming, one of two states — New Hampshire is the other — that does not have a program. In 2007 Wyoming was named by the Department of Labor as one of three future sites.
Job Corps is a residential vocational training program for disadvantage 16- to 24-year-olds. The federally funded program provides food and housing, as well as a small weekly allowance and stipends for hitting milestones, such as completing a GED, earning a high school diploma or finishing training in a trade.
Job Corps sites around the country have about a six-month waiting list, Barton said. Wyoming students now have to look out of state for such training.
Money for infrastructure, such as sewers, wells and roads, was provided by a Wyoming Business Council grant. That work is almost finished on the 124-acre Riverton site. The land is being leased by the city to the Department of Labor for $1 a year. The department is expected to provide the buildings, including a cafeteria and male and female dorms, Barton said.
When finished, the Wind River Job Corps Center will have capacity for 300 students and will be the only Job Corps site to specialize in the energy industry, Barton said. The majority of the trade skills taught at the site, such as welding or heavy equipment training, will be transferable to work in the energy industry.
Energy companies committed to help build training sites and donate some of the large machinery, said Randy Teeuwen with Encana. The companies have been involved in planning for the Wind River Job Corps site since the inception, Teeuwen said.
The campus will include well sites for oil and natural gas production so that students can simulate the work, actually using the equipment, he said.
Teeuwen visited several Job Corps sites in other states and saw how it changed the lives of the students, giving them opportunities for careers they wouldn’t have otherwise received. It also will benefit the energy industry, producing a work force already trained and experienced, he said.