Western New York Workforce Development Challenge

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The Empire State Development Western New York regional office has launched the Workforce Development Challenge (WDC), a $10 million initiative of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Phase II.  The WDC ensures the region’s workforce pipeline is responding to industry demands by promoting and investing in scalable approaches to workforce training for underserved populations.  In 2019, to further build on the program’s success, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation also announced an additional $1.5 million contribution, for a fund total of $11.5 million. 

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Funding is available for not-for-profit corporations throughout the five counties of Western New York who are already performing community-based training in the region’s target sectors ripe for growth (advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, tech, tourism, energy, and agriculture).  It is intended to be flexible and responsive to industry and innovation, and encourages applicants to provide new and creative proposals that are tailored to neighborhood and population needs.  The program also encourages projects that employ multiple workforce development strategies, including wrap-around services, mentorships, soft skills development, and partnerships with industry.

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Applicants must:

  • Be a not-for-profit corporation with Section 501(c)(3) status as determined by the Internal Revenue Service. A not-for-profit corporation must be registered and up-to-date with filings with the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau;
  • Have an established track record of effective training and trusted relationships within communities;
  • Be located in or provide services to Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and/or Allegany counties;
  • Demonstrate the development and financial management expertise to successfully develop, design, construct, manage and implement the project. This expertise is demonstrated through previous experience in successfully developing projects similar to the one proposed, either by partners or key staff within the business or organization;
  • For capital projects, must demonstrate ownership or site control (i.e., lease or letter of intent to lease) of all real estate considered part of the proposed project.

Projects must:

  • Foster workforce development in at least one of the region’s following target industry sectors—advanced manufacturing, health & life sciences, tech occupationstourism and hospitality, clean energy, and agriculture;
  • Be developed in partnership with a business or multiple businesses to maximize industry-focused curriculum development and provide direct job placement;
  • Train populations that are out of the labor force, unemployed, underemployed/working poor, and/or employed workers seeking upskilling, upgrades and/or career advancements. Preference will be given to those projects that specifically target underemployed populations and employed populations seeking career advancement;
  • Prepare participants with entry and advancement in the aforementioned regional target industries with a preference for high-demand, living wage jobs (i.e. jobs that pay the average regional average of about $45,000) with career advancement;
  • Be a new program or project or expansion (increase in participants, services, or outreach) of an existing program or project and be considered a best practice model able to be replicated.
  • Include trainee supports – activities that will be made available to program participants to reduce barriers to training.  These may include childcare, online programming, public transit passes or other transportation supports, career coaching, soft skills or success skills, free or reduced price programming, etc.
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How to Apply

In a new requirement for the third round, all applicants were required to submit a brief Letter of Intent (LOI) by Friday, December 18, 2020.  Click to view program guidelines and program Q&A. Applicants whose LOI met program requirements were invited to discuss their proposals and complete an application.  A virtual public information session was held on December 7.  Interested parties can view the recording or the PowerPoint

The third round of applications is now closed.  Future funding rounds will be announced in the coming months.

For questions, please contact John Risio at [email protected].