Otter unveils reforms in Idaho program that funds worker training

Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter unveiled changes to the administration of the state’s Workforce Development Training Fund (WDTF) on Tuesday that aim to make incentives for businesses more objective and transparent.

Established in 1996, the WDTF administers $45 million in funds to train 29,000 employees that work at 250 companies throughout the state. The program is funded through a three percent set aside of unemployment taxes.

“There have been some high-profile cases of businesses failing, or their growth stalling after taxpayer investments were made in workforce development training,” Otter said. “It’s up to us to ensure the best use of those dollars not primarily to grow any individual business but more importantly to prepare Idaho’s workforce for the jobs our employers are creating.”

Under the changes signed into law on Tuesday, companies will be eligible for WDTF revenue if they sell products or services outside the state, pay employees at least $12 per hour and provide healthcare coverage. Companies that meet those requirements will undergo a financial risk assessment by an economist located in the same region as the business.

“Idaho’s economy will only grow to the degree we have skilled, well-trained people ready to take on those jobs,” Otter said. “The better prepared we can make our workforce, the more attractive Idaho will be for employers to grow or relocate here.”

Program applicants will be awarded points in six areas: job wages, economic multipliers, the business’ unemployment tax rate, the unemployment rate of the county the job is located in, the concentration of the job type in the overall economy and transferability of required job skills.

Companies that fall below a scoring threshold will be subjected to further scrutiny.

“There is no foolproof way to eliminate the possibility that a company benefitting from the training fund will never lay off workers or go out of business,” Idaho Department of Labor Director Ken Edmunds said. “But a financial and risk analysis should provide the directors of the departments of labor and commerce with enough in-depth information about each company to be able to decide whether to approve the application.”

Edmunds said the new system will provide transparency so that companies know why an application for WDTF support was approved or denied.