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Stimulus grants will be made available to communities to retrain auto workers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2009 - Still reeling from the loss of automotive jobs and the lack of prospects for those who are no longer on the assembly line, the St. Louis area now has a shot at some federal money to help move along on the road to recovery.

The executive director of the White House Council on Auto Communities and Workers, who was in Valley Park Friday to meet with labor, business, government and civic leaders, also announced $25 million in grants to train and place workers in new careers. Hard-hit communities across the country would be eligible to apply for the money. 

"This is not government coming in with a 'Washington knows best' attitude," Ed Montgomery said at a news conference, noting that jobs in fields such as health care and information technology are expected to be fertile places for retraining.

"American auto workers are some of the best-trained, best-skilled workers in the world, and I'm confident they can compete."

Accompanying Montgomery from Washington was Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who highlighted the area's facilities, work force and location as some of its most prominent advantages. Now, she said, everyone has to work together to land some of the federal money made available through the stimulus act.

"We have already done a lot of groundwork to bring people together and have the right people in the room," she said at the news conference before meeting with about 100 people at Valley Park Elementary School.

"There has been a lot of devastation, a lot of heartbreak and a lot of anger, and I completely understand."

In a statement released with his announcement about the grant money, Montgomery said the funds are aimed at communities hit hardest by the problems in the auto industry, and they are a way the White House can help in an efficient, meaningful way.

"America's auto workers have sacrificed so much during this economic downturn," he said, "and it's our responsibility to stand with them during these difficult times. These grants help those workers who have been displaced learn new skills in these high growth and emerging industries and get support in finding where these new jobs are."

What is needed now, McCaskill said, is helping former auto workers find new jobs to make their lives whole again.

The meeting, she said, was designed to help government, labor, business and private agencies devise strategies to work together to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles to effective retraining and job placement.

Those jobs could be in the auto industry again, Montgomery said, but he noted that vehicle sales are at a 40-year low, so the prospects for new production aren't that bright.

McCaskill said that she wanted to make sure that the meeting led to solid suggestions on how to proceed, not just vague promises. The leaders she talked with, she added, " don't want anyone giving them any b.s. They've gotten enough of that."

Introducing the meeting, Montgomery said his presence was a symbol of the president's commitment to help the workers involved.

"Solutions won't happen overnight," he said. "There is no magic bullet. It will take all of us working together."

He added that McCaskill has been "a strong advocate on your behalf."

As if to prove his point, the senator took the microphone and added, "And downright pushy."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.