COVINGTON, Ga. – By a narrow 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved spending $15,000 to help fund county residents’ tuition for the next class of the LEAP program. District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards and District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz cast the dissenting votes.
The Georgia Tech LEAP (Logistics, Education and pathways) Newton pilot program is designed to help high school students, entry level job seekers, people changing careers and veterans compete for jobs and successful careers in supply chain management and logistics.
The request for the funding was made by Covington Newton County Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Staffins who told commissioners there were 222 applicants for the program last summer.
The first 100 participants had their $300 tuition waived through a grant from J.P Morgan and Schneider International through Georgia Tech. Staffins said 90 of those 100 successfully completed courses.
“We have educated 90 people free of charge on a grant in Newton County,” he said, “We were trying to target people that we can’t capture with the school system. That always seems to be a problem of ours. How do we get to people to help them improve themselves from just a job to a career?
“This program came up and we took full advantage of it. Our goal was to have 75% completion. For us to have 90% completion was just amazing.”
Staffins told commissioners there are still 120 people on a waiting list for the program.
“We hope to put another 100 through in 2018. The cost of that is $300 per person for 100 people. So I would like to do is ask the county to go in half on the $30,000 that’s needed for 2018.”
In response to a question from Schulz about where the money would come from, County Manager Lloyd Kerr said it will come from the county’s contingency fund.
“Currently the source would be the contingency fund,” Kerr said, “It is possible that we may incur some sort of savings between now and the first of February, but to identify a source at this point, I would say it would be the contingency.”
Kerr said the fund’s current balance is “a little over $600,000”.
Schulz asked Staffins if it was possible to wait for the county’s FY 2019 budget. Staffins said he didn’t think so.
“We’ve got 100 people ready to go now. We’d have to start all over with the advertising and promotion,” he said, “And Georgia Tech, with this grant shutting down they are going to make some serious personnel decisions with this program if they don’t have another class ready to go through.
“It’s set up right now to go and a whole lot of work would have to be redone if we hesitate.”
District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims said spending $15,000 to help citizens is a small investment.
“Sitting on this board, there are plenty of time we will invest into whatever new industry that comes into the county. We do whatever we have to do to get them here so our citizens can have jobs.
“Many of the times, it’s not tens of thousands, but it’s hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to get just a few jobs for this community. But only $15,000 to help 100 citizens better themselves and become a productive taxpaying citizen, to get a better job, upgrade a job or just get a chance, I think it’s a small investment on our end.
“I think we get a much better return by having citizens with good jobs. It’s rare that we get a chance to invest back in the citizens because they are always investing in us.”
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson and District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan agreed with Sims.
“Employers are looking for a stable work force and this is a small price to pay,” Cowan said.
Henderson added, “Here is an opportunity for us to spend $15,000 in order to help somebody.”
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards asked if the chamber had approached the county’s employers about the money.
“Have we tried to partner with our corporate citizens here in Newton County in terms of the industry from Shire to SKC and all the other companies to maybe where we can push them for a donation? Fifteen grand is not a lot to those big Wall Street companies,” he asked.
Staffins said approaching those companies is the goal for the next round of classes.
“We’ve started approaching them, I just don’t think we can get the funds quick enough to keep the program going,” he said.
Schulz suggested waiting until the BOC’s next meeting to give Staffins time to reach out to companies. She also said she could not support taking the money from the contingency fund.
“I would really like to see us wait at least until the next board meeting and give you an opportunity to go back to some of these businesses and see if we can get some partners from some of these other businesses, because they are the ones that benefit,” she said.
“At this point, I just can’t support going back to the contingency fund. If there’s another way we can get there, I would be open to that. We’re setting ourselves up for depleting that contingency fund and we may very well have an emergency where we need it.”
Sims, Cowan and Henderson voted to approve the measure.
Staffins told The Covington News the Covington City Council was scheduled to discuss providing the remaining $15,000 needed at its Wednesday night meeting.
Wednesday, the Covington Council agreed to put the request on the agenda for its next meeting.
The program is a partnership involving Newton County, Georgia Tech, the City of Covington, Newton County, Newton County Economic Development, The Newton County School System and the Covington Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
The program consists of online courses in Supply Chain Management Principles, Warehousing Opportunities, Transportation Operations and Customer Service Operations.
Students who complete the self-paced courses are prepared to compete for jobs in the logistics field. Logistics World defines “logistics” as a “business planning framework for the management of material, service, information and capital flows,” or simply put, “Having the right thing at the right place at the right time.”