'A big blow': Proposed Blackwell Job Corps closure could have significant impact on Forest CountySubmitted: 05/29/2019
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
News Director

'A big blow': Proposed Blackwell Job Corps closure could have significant impact on Forest County
CRANDON - When major renovations came to the Crandon Off-Road Raceway in 2017, Blackwell Job Corps students helped out; a fact that isn't lost on Forest County Economic Development Partnership Executive Director Mark Ferris.

"They've come from other areas. It becomes their home," Ferris said of those students.

By year's end, it's likely all of Blackwell's current students will need to find a new home. The federal government announced plans late last week to close down Blackwell and eight other civilian conservation centers (CCCs) across the country.

"It's a big blow to the town of Blackwell," Ferris said.

The facility near Laona has helped train disadvantaged kids from outside the area and state in skills and trades since 1964, while employing 54 full-time workers.

Ferris first heard the news talking with a Blackwell employee.

"[Those are] family-sustaining incomes. A big hit on our local economy," Ferris told Newswatch 12 on Wednesday afternoon.

The proposed closure comes as the U.S. Department of Labor takes over CCC control from the USDA. Spokesperson megan sweeney told Newswatch 12 in an emailed statement, "Decisions to propose deactivation of specific centers were made carefully following reviews of... performance and outcome measurements."

Ferris says the fact the federal government was considering this was news to him.

"There was nothing. And we still have yet to receive any formal notification. And that's really bothersome," Ferris said.

Ferris estimates Blackwell pumped a lot of tax and economic benefits into Forest County, in part, through its $5 million operating budget.

"A lot of money being spent by Blackwell in the county, so we have other businesses that are certainly being impacted by this," Ferris said.

Wednesday, Ferris placed calls in to Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, along with Congressman Sean Duffy. Ferris told Newswatch 12 late Wednesday afternoon he received a call back from Rep. Duffy's office. The seventh-district representative plans to contact the DOL and the USDA personally.

For its part, the USDA suggested the move helps the Forest Service "step away from programs that are not essential to our core mission," as noted by Sec. Sonny Perdue in a letter to the Department of Labor.

Ferris argues Blackwell is essential to Forest County and the dozens of employees who appear to be out of a job.

"Help those folks and hopefully get that message to the federal government that we need this facility here," Ferris said.

There may still be a chance to save Blackwell and the other centers. The Department of Labor will open the notice of suggested closures to the public for comment Thursday. The notice can be read here.

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