BY CHRIS STEWART
Montgomery County announced a new $2 million workforce center Wednesday to serve an area of the county that has experienced decades of
disinvestment and fewer employment opportunities.
“We want to bring and create bridges of opportunity for our citizens,” said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert. “Without opportunity,
there cannot be true progress. It is our hope that this new center will become a beacon of hope and employment opportunity and job training.”
Montgomery County, city of Dayton and state officials along with education, civil rights and labor leaders gathered at the Westown Shopping Center in front of a former ALDI store where the new stand-alone Employment Opportunity Center will house services for job seekers and space for youth mentorship programs in West Dayton.
The unemployment rate in Dayton is already 62% higher than the national average — and significantly higher in some Dayton neighborhoods, according to American Community Survey statistics. “Employment has been very adversely impact impacted by the pandemic,” said state Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton. “But the truth is, even before the pandemic, unemployment issues within African American communities all over the country, have always been an issue, and oftentimes double or more than within the white community.”
In June, Montgomery County declared racism a public health crisis and announced efforts, including the new center, to help improve conditions that lead to disparate outcomes for minorities in the community. County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a 10-year, $1.85 million lease with Town Centers Limited Partnership for space at the former ALDI store on West Third Street. The center, anticipated to open next summer, will provide employment services as well host the Male Leadership Academy, a mentorship program for 14- to 16-yearold youth, a soon-to-come Female Leadership Academy youth mentorship program.
The facility will also host Miami Valley Career Technology Center’s Aspire program, which allows people to advance their academic skills as adults if
they have not achieved a credential or high school certificate, said Amy Leedy, the CTC’s adult education supervisor. “This is coming into the community and making it a little bit easier for people to acquire those skills that they desire,” she said. “It’s very much a wonderful thing.”
The county anticipates a total investment of $2.2 million, which includes the lease and cost to build out the space, which is in the early design stage. In addition to the county’s investment, the Greater Ohio Workforce Board is contributing $300,000 toward the project. The 15,000 square-foot space will also have two community rooms and a resource lab where people can get assistance with resumes and job interview skills, according to the county.
The nearby Westwood, Roosevelt, Lakeview and Residence Park neighborhoods were teeming with opportunity when he was a young man, said the Rev. David Fox, Dayton Unit NAACP criminal justice chair. “We had everything right here on the West Side,” he said. But industry like the McCall’s printing and Inland manufacturing plants that provided good jobs in the region are a distant memory, he said.
Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said the new opportunity center will help revive the area by giving prospective employers what they are looking for: skilled workers. “This is a significant investment in our community in West Dayton, Westwood and the Residence Park neighborhood, which has seen significant disinvestment over the years,” Shaw said. “We’re turning the corner on that disinvestment now. And this Employment Opportunity Center is going to go a long way to filling the workforce pipeline that we so desperately need.”
Pastor Samuel N. Winston Jr., of the Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church said the new center will offer resources and programs to help end
generational poverty. “If we as a community will commit to their success, these have the potential to literally change the family trees of Montgomery County residents for generations,” he said. “Arming our citizens with education, with confidence, and the skills necessary to find and maintain living wage employment is vital in the struggle for equality and equity.”