In an attempt to boost workforce readiness, the city of Springfield is thinking of reanimating Project CoRE.
Sally Payne, the acting director of the Department of Workforce Development, spoke about the project at Springfield City Council’s July 13 study session. Through Project CoRE, which stands for construction, rehabilitation and education, a handful of at-risk youth would be able to experience preapprenticeship construction work in multiple areas while helping to revive a blighted neighborhood.
Payne said her office had set out to write a grant for a similar program, but that grant application, for a YouthBuild federal grant through the U.S. Department of Labor, was challenging and required a stiff private match of $375,000. Then someone remembered Project CoRE, which was last active in the city in 2011 through the Department of Planning and Development. Bringing back Project CoRE was the obvious better move, according to Payne.
Payne’s office is seeking business sponsors and county or city grants to support Project CoRE, said Haley Jones, executive secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. The budget for the proposed project is for 10 participants, and $220,000 would cover all expenses, including staffing, certification, student wages and workers’ compensation, and construction materials.
If all goes as planned, the program will become self-sustaining, with workers working on a house, flipping it to resell and then using those funds to keep the process going, said Jones.
Payne describes Project CoRE as a community collaboration project.
“There is a labor shortage right now, nationwide, statewide, in southwest Missouri, Springfield and Greene County,” she said.
Through Project CoRE, construction hopefuls can skill up to enhance the workforce, Payne said. The program would accept 10 members between the ages of 18-24, and they would apply through the Department of Workforce Development, which Payne said works with a lot of disadvantaged youth.
Participants would renovate homes – two empty residences have been chosen in the area of Sherman Avenue, and a teacher already is on board – while they gain hands-on experience in construction.
“A preapprenticeship program is kind of a try-before-you-buy, so all the kids will get to touch each and every aspect of building,” Payne said. “It really gives them an opportunity to select what they want to do, an area they want to focus on.”
Payne offered an alarming statistic when she said that the average construction worker is roughly 42-43 years old – meaning that it’s vitally important to get more people to enter the workforce in the construction field.
She added Ozarks Technical Community College has a construction program that works on-site, typically building structures over the course of a term and then dismantling them to rebuild elsewhere.
“They will tell you that these people that they’re putting through their construction program really are employed before they even leave the program,” Payne said. “We know the demand is there.”
Project CoRE would meet three of council’s priorities, Payne said: public safety, economic vitality and quality of place.
Public safety is served by providing direction and discouraging recidivism for at-risk participants. Providing livable homes from blighted properties and making more attractive neighborhoods will serve economic vitality and quality of place objectives.
Payne said Springfield has more renters than homeowners.
“We would like to promote home ownership,” she said.
She added that she loves the aspect of revitalizing just a small portion of a neighborhood, since that kind of change can be infectious for properties all around.
Mayor Ken McClure suggested that this sort of positive change in a neighborhood can energize the community.
“It gets to the whole point of home ownership,” McClure said. “It’s a very needed program in so many different ways.”
McClure drew a comparison between Project CoRE and the Build My Future collaborative, which attracts students statewide to the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds for a day of hands-on exhibits and simulations to build their interest in the construction trades. Build My Future started in 2014 and grew to have 3,000 students signed up for the 2020 event, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Build My Future has spread to other regions and states, including Florida, Iowa, and Texas.
“It’s everywhere, and we love that, so we know that there is a demand for it,” McClure said.
Retro Metro changed ownership; print shop Grafpros expanded to Mount Vernon; and the new headquarters and third full-service branch in Springfield for Multipli Credit Union opened.