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BEST program combines service area

The local Business Employment Skills Team (BEST) program which covers four counties, including Bureau, is combining with a neighboring four-county workforce program.

BEST Executive Director Pam Furlan made the announcement at the April Bureau County Board meeting, saying Gov. Pat Quinn approved the consolidation in February. The existing workforce area which includes Bureau, LaSalle, Putnam and Lee counties will be combined with the BEST program which covers Carroll, Ogle, Whiteside and Jo Daviess counties. Hopefully, the consolidation will be ready to go by July 1, Furlan said.

The reason behind the consolidation is definitely funding concerns. With state and federal dollars shrinking, the need was to not only survive but to be able to continue the job which BEST has been called to do, which is provide needed services and programs to the residents. The combined effort will allow Furlan and her counterpart in the neighboring four-county area to streamline their operations to make sure as many dollars as possible get to the people who need their programs and services, she said.

Furlan and her counterpart have been working on the consolidation since last fall in order to be proactive when it comes to funding needs. Right now, there are 25 workforce areas within the state. If the state does try to reconfigure the statewide workforce program, possibly the state would look more favorably at areas which have already combined. Also, by being proactive, each area can make sure the combined effort is a good fit, which it has been, Furlan said.

Separately, the two area workforce programs had a population base of less than 200,000 people, which was the recommended base limit set by the state. The new combined workforce area will cover 340,000 people and 5,000 square miles.

The new effort has gotten the endorsement of eight county board chairpersons and the two junior colleges in the area. Furlan commended Bureau County Board Chairman Dale Anderson and county board representative Marc Wilt for their work with the BEST consolidation.

In this first year, she does not expect a lot of changes as far as the individuals and businesses served, Furlan said. The new workforce will see how much traffic is realized at each of the existing offices in the new eight-county area. The individuals and businesses should not see any interruption of their services, she said.

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