Springdale executives eye U.S. bailout money for tech and job training

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SPRINGDALE — City Council will consider upgrades to its computer systems and workforce training for the community at its next regular meeting on June 14. The money would come from the city’s allocation of US bailout funds.

The board, working in committee of the whole on Monday, gave initial approval for the use of $2.5 million to establish the Excellerate Foundation’s Upskill Workforce Development and Placement Program. The council will also consider spending $600,000 on computer equipment.

The city received $9,194,245 under the bailout to replace revenue lost as many businesses closed and corresponding reduced sales tax revenue in the face of covid-19.

The Upskill program would allow residents who are under-resourced to make changes to their families and take on essential jobs in the area’s medical industry, said Jeff Webster, president and CEO of Upskill. He spoke to the board about the program in February.

The city money would support the Northwest Technical Institute, with $2 million provided to help build an expansion and $900,000 for programming, Mayor Doug Sprouse told council members Monday.

The region’s largest health care systems would be willing to hire graduates of the program, Webster said. Upskill staff members would intervene with student social services as needed.

In return, graduates would agree to work for two years at the medical companies that hire them, Webster continued.

In February, the board approved spending $3 million on the Upskill program, which would provide funding for Northwest Arkansas Community College to also provide programs.

Sprouse explained that when the bailout rules were fine-tuned, the amounts for each school needed to be set.

The NWACC would make its own application for funding, he explained.

Excellerate officials have approached the governments of two northwestern Arkansas counties and four major cities in the region to fund the program, Webster said. The requests were based on 4% of a city’s allocation from the US bailout for covid recovery, he noted.

State and philanthropic money should also support construction and programming.

The city’s information technology department requested $607,600 to upgrade the city’s systems and increase its cybersecurity.

The money would be spent on upgrades that provide increased bandwidth, connectivity and cybersecurity, said department director Mark Gutte.

Officials said cybersecurity was one of the goals of the bailout. Old and outdated programs can cause security issues, said Colby Fulfer, the city’s chief of staff.

The city would also buy 75 laptops for city workers with the bailout money.

“When the pandemic hit and everything stopped, we realized we didn’t have a lot of laptops,” Gutte said.

He said employees able to work remotely brought their desktop computers home.

“But we asked, ‘What would we do if it happened again?’ We have learned that some jobs must continue,” he said.

Gutte noted that employees could also use the laptops in meetings and for other collaborations.

However, not all city employees will receive a laptop. The city has 600 employees, he said.

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