On October 11, 2016 the Little Rock Workforce Development Board’s Executive Director, W. J. Monagle , spoke to members of the Arkansas Workforce Development Board regarding “business-driven” workforce centers and development areas. His remarks are provided in full below:
Good Morning Board Members and Special Guests,
It is my honor to speak to you here in the heart of Goodwill Industries of AR where my local board member and vice-chair Brian Itzkowtiz has so successfully modeled a unique business enterprise based upon non-profit vision and objectives not only in Little Rock but across the entire state of Arkansas. In the same spirit of being “business–driven” I’d like to share a couple of additional perspectives on how your workforce centers and development areas directly impact the bottom line of business throughout our state.
And I don’t mean in our traditional role of connecting qualified applicants with employers that have good jobs – although that is still our primary concern.
In late August of this year, I was asked by Entergy Arkansas to travel to New Orleans and present at a four-state conference on the success of our Earned Income Tax Credit awareness program and our signature event “Super Saturday”, where people get free tax preparation and access to a host of other benefits. It seemed little ol’ Little Rock was reaching far more numbers than cities such as Jackson, MS; New Orleans, LA; and many places in Southeast Texas – attracting more than 300 families at last year’s event alone. They wanted to know our secrets; the big one is that we have been working together for 14 years with great partners like the AARP, Central AR Development Council, the City of Little Rock, and, Yes, the IRS. The EITC Campaign as we like to call it, includes many facets based upon building financial security and assets for moderate and low-income working families. Since Entergy became our corporate sponsor ten years ago, it has increased the level of outreach tremendously. Of course, I knew that this corporate citizenship was business-based, but I had no idea to what extent until I heard one of their executives explain that “when 40% of your customers live just above or below poverty, it permeates throughout your entire business plan.” In 2014 in Arkansas, 297,000 EITC claims were filed by Arkansas working families for a total refund to the state of over $774M. Almost $60M comes back to my City of Little Rock – and not just that year, but every year.
Elizabeth Brister is Entergy’s Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, and in her words:
“This is a big job and no one group can do it alone. First and foremost our partners are our community-based grantees. They know the local lay of the land. They know community needs and assets. They know the history of what has been tried and worked or failed. We rely tremendously on them. And we think of this as more than a traditional grantee-grantor relationship. We want to be in the thick of it with them in their local areas. So we work in close collaboration with our community partners to figure out how our Entergy-originated efforts and connections can be of use to the broader community.”
And Indeed Entergy has worked in the thick of it with us and has emerged as a corporate stand-out, winning the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2014 Citizen Award for best economic empowerment program, as well as being has been honored by the national Points of Light Foundation as one of the top 50 most civic minded corporations in America in 2016.
Another initiative that Entergy strongly supports is LIHEAP or Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funded by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services and operated in Arkansas through the 16 Community Action Agencies with oversight provided by ADHS. The community action agency in my area is the Central AR Development Council or CADC and is co-located at our center in Little Rock. To my colleagues, if you have not already established a relationship with your local community action agency, I encourage you to reach out to them; they are a tremendous resource here in AR.
Each summer and winter, the CADC opens its LIHEAP program in our center with a goal to assist utility customers who are struggling to pay their bill. $500 or $700 is the maximum that can be paid, but most assistance averages in the $150-200 range. They limit the number of customers they can see to 120 per day, 3 days per week, for 2-3 months – or until the money runs out. For many low-income customers, this keeps the heat on in the winter, or the cool running in the summer when your utility bills tend to get the most out of control. In 2016, the Arkansas LIHEAP appropriation was just shy of $28M and served more than 60,000 households. The figures are not out yet for 2016, but historically Entergy receives something less than half of those funds (so, Entergy’s bottom line is improved by about $14M.) The other $14M of LIHEAP is distributed to more than 100 other electric companies and cooperatives, municipal utility companies, as well as gas, oil and propane companies throughout the state. Not just this year, but every year.
Again in the words of Entergy’s Ms. Brister:
“Our greatest need is the development of other partners who are interested in lifting families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. The … programs … put real dollars back in our local economies. Who could be against this? Our hope is to lead by example, inspiring more private and corporate foundations, especially in the financial sector, to join us in the effort to provide human and financial capital toward this vital initiative.”
It seems that what we hear a lot these days is that “government would be better if it were run more like a business”, and we subscribe to that philosophy entirely by producing a quality product as efficiently as possible with the resources available to us. And we do this every year, not just this year. This is evidenced by our area meeting nine of nine common measures not just this year – but for three years. It is a difficult task that all of us are charged with doing each day for our customers: we try to get them jobs with the highest wages possible while at the same time charged with engaging employers that want to pay the least wages that the market will bear. I don’t say that accusatorily, but we all need to acknowledge that that is the ironic reality, and that we will be measured by how successfully we accomplish both of those challenges. The fortunate thing is that some businesses – like Entergy – are saying not only to themselves but demonstrating to the greater world: “Business would be better if it were run more like a social service agency.”