Merced County supervisors OK expansion of job training center

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 26, 2013 

A decision by the Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will help more people train to find jobs during the economic downturn.

The board unanimously approved a resolution to expand the Central Valley Opportunity Center's 20,000-square-foot training center in Hilmar.

The expansion will be funded by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, according to Executive Director Ernie Flores.

Flores said the project includes a vocational training center spanning about 2.8 acres across from the Winton headquarters on Bridget Court. The 2.8 acres of land was purchased by the center in 2010, he noted.

Flores said Tuesday's decision is a step in the right direction, especially for a community struggling to find employment amid the current economic conditions.

"Merced County has the third worst economic rate in the country," Flores said. "But when when you look at Winton and Atwater, the poverty rate is terrible -- 43.5 percent of people have income below the poverty level."

With the help of the grant, Flores said, the center will expand two top training programs -- the welding and commercial truck driving classes.

"We'll be able run multiple classes to train more people" he said. "We'll serve more people and help those families get out of poverty."

The center will add green technology training programs, including solar panel installation and home weatherization. They are looking at the possibility of adding medical and air conditioning training, Flores said.

The total cost of the expansion will be $2.6 million; the center is responsible for raising the rest of the funds, which could come from donations and corporate contributions.

Flores hopes to get final approval so work can begin on the project in June.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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