Woodford ‘Work Ready’ once again
The county with the lowest unemployment rate in the state last month has once again been certified as a Kentucky Work Ready community.
The recent notification, which covers this year and next, marks the fourth time Woodford County has achieved the two-year certification, according to Don Vizi, executive director of the Woodford Chamber of Commerce. The first was in 2012, and Vizi, hired by the Chamber in 2014, has spearheaded the drive since – with lots of help from a wide variety of local leaders, he said.
“One of the criteria was we had to have everybody in the community tied together – education, EDA (Economic Development Authority), the city and county governments (and others),” Vizi said. “So you can imagine trying to get them together at any given time.”
There were near-monthly meetings with up to 25 local leaders at the Chamber office and piles of paperwork to fill out and send in – “a tremendous amount of work,” according to Vizi.
According to the Cabinet for Economic Development, the distinction “is a measure of a county’s workforce quality. It is an assurance to business and industry that the community is committed to providing the highly-skilled workforce required in today’s competitive global economy. Through this effort, Kentucky communities can assess their own workforce strengths and follow a process to become certified as Work Ready or Work Ready in Progress.”
This year’s certification process involved seven different criteria – up from three the last time around, Vizi said. They include high school graduation rate, career readiness certificate rate, internet availability and speed, the percentage of working age population without a high school diploma, percentages of citizens with some college or higher education degree, a high school work ethics seal and an ongoing apprenticeship program.
“We were above (the needed levels in) everything they requested, even before we started sending in the paperwork,” Vizi said.
Other programs making Woodford County more “work-friendly” include criminal record expungement and information sessions the last two years and the now-annual Industry Day and Teacher Industry Day, Vizi said.
“I think (the recertification) sends a very strong signal to the existing industry as well as new folks that we’re trying to bring in as to the overall commitment the community has in providing a skilled workforce,” said EDA Chair John Soper.
Soper said his recent appointment to the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, which handles state and federal workforce dollars and training, allows him to pass on important information to local officials. “The main thing we’re trying to do is just make sure we’re tapping every … opportunity we have to increase the knowledge of our workforce and make better employees.”
Soper said not every company that considers locating here asks whether Woodford County is a Work Ready Community – but it’s important to be able to answer affirmatively if they do. He said the certification also helps ease concerns about the county’s traditionally low unemployment rate, which can make it hard to find local workers.
Asked whether the recertification was another feather in the Chamber’s hat, Vizi said there was plenty of credit to go around. “I think the big thing is that everybody in the community put this thing together, and I just really appreciate them, because they had to give me all the information and a few of them helped me put it back together,” Vizi said.