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Spanning the Region

Monday, April 1, 2002

Arkansas Program Gets High Marks

The Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) is an award-winning literacy program under the umbrella of the Pulaski County Special School District in central Arkansas.

WAGE clients, who must have a high school diploma or GED certificate to participate, take additional classes in reading, language and math. When they reach a certain performance level in those subjects, they enter one of two paths for certification: clerical or industrial. Clerical students are guided through a curriculum that results in proficiency in Windows 98 and Microsoft Office 2000 applications, office administration, typing, faxing, filing and telephone etiquette. The industrial curriculum focuses on mechanical aptitude, spatial relations, dexterity and computer literacy.

All instruction is free of charge and includes 64 hours of on-the-job training for clients who are being considered for a position with a company. The company doesn't spend any money, yet it benefits from the job-specific training and has time to evaluate the person's potential before making a commitment to hire. Businesses that do not have permanent-position vacancies can still participate as a provider of on-the-job training.

Who are WAGE clients? Typically, they are:

  • dislocated workers,
  • single mothers,
  • women who have never worked outside the home but suddenly must enter the job market because of a change in circumstances,
  • persons re-entering the job market without adequate marketable skills, or
  • persons in the job market who wish to acquire more marketable skills.

The Little Rock Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is one organization that has benefited from this literacy program. To date, the Little Rock Branch has provided on-the-job training for two WAGE clients. Both have become permanent hires.

One client shared her story. She had worked for a major retailer for 18 years. When the company closed several stores, the client faced a serious life decision. The company was willing to transfer her to a store out of state, but that was not an option for her. She found herself without a job and in need of some new marketable skills. She completed training through the WAGE clerical program and began on-the-job training at the Fed. She was then hired for a permanent position.

For more information on the program, contact Jolla Robinson, WAGE coordinator, at (501) 945-6055 or Vallie Wilkerson, WAGE job development specialist, at (501) 370-9100.

Cape Girardeau Enjoys Main Street Status

Cape Girardeau, Mo., formed a Downtown Special Business District in 1983 when downtown businesses along the riverfront agreed to tax themselves to pay for street and lighting improvements. Since then, the downtown has changed its focus from traditional stores and five-and-dimes to specialty stores and restaurants. Boats on the Mississippi River frequently dock along the riverfront so that passengers can explore the shops and culture.

In 2000, a historic preservation plan recommended the use of history and heritage to enhance economic growth and quality of life and to revitalize older business districts. After applying to become a Missouri Main Street community, Cape Girardeau was approved in 2000. Financial institutions that contributed between $1,500 and $2,500 each include Bank of America, Bank of Missouri, Capaha Bank, Commerce Bank, Firstar Bank (now U.S. Bank), First National Bank, Union Planters Bank and Wood and Huston Bank. Each contributor is listed in the Lenders of Choice brochure as a source for financial services in the downtown historic district.

For more information, call Catherine Dunlap, executive director of Old Town Cape, at (573) 334-8085.

Memphis Partnership Creates Home Loan Fund

Memphis Community Development Partnership (MCDP), in partnership with Seedco, AmSouth Bank, InSouth Bank and EFS National Bank, has established a loan fund to promote the development of affordable housing in the Memphis area.

This fund will make short-term loans at below-market rates to nonprofit developers of affordable housing. The loans will be for the construction or rehabilitation of single-family homes for low- and moderate-income homebuyers. Ten percent of the fund is also set aside for the development of rental housing. The fund's assets are currently at $900,000.

Only nonprofit developers or for-profit developers partnering with a nonprofit organization are eligible. A nine-person loan committee will make the lending decisions with MCDP staff providing administrative duties.

For information, contact Glenn Cox of MCDP at (901) 722-0037.

Sweeping Tax Breaks Aid Mississippi, Tennessee Economy

Thousands of businesses and employees in distressed areas of rural Mississippi and Memphis, Tenn., are expected to benefit from substantive federal tax breaks announced earlier this year.

The Mississippi cities and Memphis have been designated Renewal Communities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The designation makes them eligible to share in an estimated $17 billion in tax incentives, which in turn are expected to promote job growth.

These new Renewal Communities can take advantage of wage credits, tax deductions, capital gains exclusions and bond financing to stimulate economic development and create jobs.

About 50 percent of residents in the Memphis Renewal Community live in poverty. City officials hope the tax breaks will attract businesses into the 40-square mile area. In addition, Memphis will establish the Renaissance Business Center as a "one-stop shop" to encourage small and minority businesses to locate or expand within the Renewal Community.

The cities in Mississippi, located in the west-central part of the state, have plans to improve federally funded services for residents, including job support, child care, rental assistance, mental health services, small business loans, employment training and transportation services.

Renewal Community incentives for businesses are extensive. A sampling includes:

  • a $1,500 credit for every employee who lives and works in the area,
  • an $8,500 credit over two years if an employer hires a long- term welfare recipient, and
  • a zero percent capital gains rate on assets acquired in the community after Jan. 1 and held for at least five years.

Renewal Communities use public and private partnerships to work on economic revitalization in areas that experience high unemployment and shortages of affordable housing.

An estimated $6 billion in tax incentives are available exclusively for Renewal Communities across the country. As distressed areas, Renewal Communities will also be eligible to share in an additional $11 billion in Low-Income Housing and New Market Tax Credits.

Home Repair Loans Available in St. Louis

Homeowners in the city of St. Louis and parts of St. Louis County may be eligible for below-market interest rate home improvement loans offered by four local banks.

The banks--First Bank, Firstar, Commerce Bank and UMB Bank--took the lead and teamed up with the Missouri Housing Development Commission, St. Louis City, St. Louis County and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance in this community effort.

The loans are designed to encourage homeowners to make repairs and improvements, with a priority given to correcting building code violations and safety concerns. The loans will be available to those whose household income does not exceed 150 percent ($79,200 as of March 1, 2002) of the statewide median. The maximum loan amount, from a $2 million pool, is $25,000 with a 10-year maximum term.

Applications are available at the banks.

North Little Rock Home to New Center

Arkansas' first NeighborWorks Home Ownership Center opened in North Little Rock in the fall of 2001 with a celebration at the Argenta Community Development Corp. office.

The center, housed in the CDC office, is one of 55 in the United States. Homebuyers in Pulaski County can receive services and training in how to buy and maintain a home. For more information, call (501) 372-6936.

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