By Peter Becker

Managing Editor

HAWLEY - Report of a plan to bring a four year college program to Hawley and continued development of a skilled labor force accented remarks shared at the 5th Annual Meeting of the Downtown Hawley Partnership (DHP), April 29.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Joann Hudak, chairperson of Workforce Wayne, which is soon to be known by a new name: "Northeast Innovation Alliance."

Hudak is also an Assistant Superintendent at Wallenpaupack Area School District. The 30-year educator stressed the needs for building a skilled labor pool attractive to companies that would bring meaningful employment to the area. This includes, in part, creating educational opportunities close to home.

Four year college?

With the support of local state legislators, Workforce Wayne achieved Community Education Council status.

Community education councils are non-profit organizations that bring higher education opportunities to rural or educationally under-served communities in Pennsylvania. They serve their communities by assessing the education and training needs of their community and partnering with providers to offer educational programs. The councils are funded by the PA Department of Education.

Hudak stated that there is interest among four-year universities in developing programs here. She said that a number of them have contacted her about working with Lackawanna College Lake Region Center, where students could start their studies with Lackawanna and transfer their credits, pursuing a bachelor's degree through other schools.

In this model, called "2+2", a student would first take the two year program at Lackawanna and earn an associates degree offered by the community college. Then through an agreement made with a four-year school, the student could stay at the Lake Region Center and take further courses provided by the university.

Bloomsburg University, she stated, is extremely excited about the prospect. Interest has also been shown by Misericordia University and there been conversations with Mansfield University and Wilkes University.

This is different than the express program offered by Misericordia at Lackawanna College, which is designed for students with an associates to seek a bachelor's degree through weekend or evening courses, or for working people who already have an associates and want to return to school.

In the "2+2" program, students could continue their education straight through to the bachelor's, obtaining an associates half way through. The two colleges would work together on the curriculum and staffing needs.

She said that this would bring about a great opportunity for those interested in college and would benefit from being able to stay at home or continue to work locally while pursuing a bachelor's degree.

The model is currently carried out in other areas of Pennsylvania.

Building labor force

Workforce Wayne has been working towards the goal of a skilled labor force since formation in 2005. In that time, through Workforce Wayne's efforts, more than $800,000 in grants have been brought to Wayne and Pike Counties.

A few of the accomplishments have included:

• Implementation of the Wayne/Pike Technology Training Lab at the Hawley Silk Mill.

• Advanced the planning of a Pike/Wayne Career and Technical Center. Wayne and Pike are two of only three counties in the state without this critical service.

• Establishment of nine Community Career & Training Sites at Wayne and Pike County libraries and the Wayne County Employment & Training Center.

• Facilitated the Pike/Wayne Business Education Partnership with Wallenpaupack, Delaware Valley, Western Wayne and Wayne Highlands School Districts.

The need is so great in Wayne and Pike because of several factors: The counties have no chartered CareerLink program, no K-12 or post-secondary training and no shared learning space; the population is growing but per capita income is not keeping pace; the Wall Street West Gap Analysis showed a need for skills training here; and the work force needs to prepare for the advancing development of the Marcellus Shale gas field.

As Dr. Hudak pointed out, "a lot of the best and brightest move away." Efforts of Workforce Wayne seek to counter that trend of graduating high school seniors.

Workforce Wayne is presently working with what Dr. Hudak referred to as a "pretty significant company" that is interested in locating in the area. Labor pool information is being supplied this firm as well as a couple smaller companies exploring the region.

Breakfast on May 20

Workforce Wayne has scheduled their annual meeting at Ehrhardt's Waterfront Banquet Center, Monday, May 20, with a breakfast buffet at 8 a.m. Dr. Paul Harrington of Drexel University is scheduled to discuss labor market trends for teens and young adults in Wayne and Pike Counties, employment and education trends for this age group, and how we as a community can re-engage this portion of the labor market.

The program is scheduled between 9 and 11 a.m.

Dr. Hudak and Lyndsay J. Birmelin, Executive Director, are also slated to speak.

Ehrhardt's is located on Route 507 in Tafton, overlooking Lake Wallenpaupack.

The cost of the breakfast is $25.00. Reservations are needed by May 10th. Call Workforce Wayne at (570)253-5334 for more information.