Audrain County Commissioners working to prevent closure

People accustomed to using the Missouri Career Center in Mexico to search for employment opportunities will soon have to find another office to meet their needs.
A spokesperson at the career center's office located on South Clark Street confirmed Wednesday that the Mexico office is closing, but directed all other inquiries to the Missouri Department of Economic Development in Jefferson City. The Mexico office is set to close April 30.
Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs said his office is working to prevent that.
"I am very disappointed that the state is doing this," Hobbs said Wednesday. "The last update I had, about a week ago, is that the state planned to pull its one state personnel, and when that happens Mexico will cease to be a career center."
According to the career center spokesperson, former office director Julie McNeill is no longer with the local office. She has been reassigned to another state office.
Hobbs said the county commission had received no official notice of the closing, nor were they asked for input on the decision. He said the closing not only takes away this area's only state worker for unemployment benefits, it also puts in jeopardy the activities of the Central Missouri Community Action agency, which currently shares office space with the state and pays half the rent.
Regarding the office closing, Hobbs said the commission has engaged with their legislative delegate in Jefferson City, and that they are working on the issue. "We're working with the state senate and the Missouri General Assembly trying to get some answers to some questions. But, most of our calls have gone unanswered," he said.
"It's a sad thing," Hobbs said, noting the Audrain County residents will likely have to go to Jefferson City or Columbia offices, and that Centralia residents will likely travel to Kirksville, because the Moberly office is also scheduled to close.
John Fougere of the Missouri Department of Economic Development confirmed that funding was a consideration in the closing.
"Federal Workforce Investment Act funds, which are used to pay for career center staffing and operations, have been decreasing over the past few years, and have failed to keep up with the increasing costs of doing business," Fougere said. "On top of those decreases, the Central Region (where the Mexico Career Center is located) is expected to receive an additional 5-10 percent cut as a result of the federal sequestration process."
Fougere said these combined substantial decreases in funding have made it necessary to cease operations at five Missouri career centers. The Mexico Career Center, along with career centers in Caruthersville, Moberly, Monett and Warrensburg, are scheduled to close April 30.
The Mexico Career Center served 2,311 clients in the last full year for which DED has statistics (July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012). DED made its decision to close the offices on March 15. In the absence of a local career center, Fougere said the DED is encouraging local residents in need of reemployment services to visit, which has a variety of free resources available to assist them.
Hobbs said the only words he has heard are "federal budget cuts," but he has not been able to get a solid number. Part of that, he said, "could be laid at the feet of the sequestration, but not all of it."
Another partial explanation he received, Hobbs said, was office traffic. "It's true we don't have the numbers of some of the metro offices. But, do you want workforce development to be urban or do you want it to be for all parts of the state?"
Hobbs said official information has been hard for the commission to obtain. His search for information, he said, has included contact with the offices of Brian Munslinger, Jay Houghton, Jeannie Riddle and Chris Kelly. "It's going to take our state elected officials to get us some information and solutions on this one," he said.
Hobbs said the CMCA agency is contracted to provide job training through the office and would greatly be missed in the community.
"They have offered valuable services to mid-Missouri's workforce," Hobbs said. "I don't know how many workers trying to get back into the workforce have been able to get back on the job because of their help. They've been the source of everything from training for a new job, to a pair of steel-toed boots for somebody who just got word of a job opening if they could show up ready to work the next morning."
Hobbs said the agency currently splits the rent with the state and will need to come up with more money when the lease expires in 90 days.
"The sad thing about this whole situation is that the CMCA office and the career center work together like a hand and glove. Our overriding concern for the area is what will happen to the Central Missouri Community Action portion of the office," Hobbs said.