November 27, 2005

Arsenal programs trying to help 1,060 workers facing unemployment

The Rock Island Arsenal has begun implementing the federal base closing law that took effect two weeks ago, including opening an office aimed at providing affected workers with a wide range of services to help plan their futures.

Arsenal officials, as well as local workforce development offices in Iowa and Illinois, have banded together to offer services to the nearly 1,600 Arsenal workers who will be affected via an office called I-FORCES.

The center provides assistance in career, retirement and financial planning, as well as relocation advice, among other services. Even somebody considering starting a small business can get training.

“They’re really a very important resource for us,” said Steve Hall, director of the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center. The center is a joint effort of the Arsenal, Illinois’ Partners in Job Training and Placement and Eastern Iowa Job Training.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, voted in August to ship the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, the northwest regional office of the Installation Management Agency and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service off the island. Also, some work at the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center will be transferred. Nearly 1,600 jobs will be lost as a result of the changes.

With the planned transfer of the 1st U.S. Army headquarters here, the net loss is 1,060 jobs, according to the Quad-City Development Group.

Since Congress did not intervene, the law took effect Nov. 9. Since then, implementation steps have been taken.

Arsenal officials said last week they have submitted plans for carrying out the changes up the chain of command and are awaiting approval, which may not come until spring, said Alan Wilson, the garrison manager responsible for base operations.

By law, the federal government has six years to implement the changes and it likely will take much of that time to fully phase in. However, workers are being told they shouldn’t wait to plan their futures.
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The impending move of hundreds of Arsenal employees presents a different kind of challenge for area workforce development offices. Often, they deal with workers who face the sudden loss of their jobs. This time, with a long implementation phase, workers have the luxury of time, even if the changes are unsettling for people who in many cases have spent their working careers on the island.
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Historically, only 15 to 25 percent of workers go along when military commands are relocated as the result of the BRAC, Wilson said.

Nearly a quarter of the Arsenal workforce will be eligible to retire with full benefits by 2010, but the average age of the base worker is 47. And while most of those workers will be eligible for some kind of retirement benefit, there still will be a significant number who likely have to find some way of making ends meet.
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Sometime next year, the workforce will be surveyed about its future plans, which will give Iowa and Illinois a basis on which to apply for federal funding to pay for worker retraining and other services.

Currently, the I-FORCES office is being paid for by federal funding the local workforce development offices receive. I-FORCES is an acronym meaning Installation — Finding Opportunities, Resources, Careers and Employable Skills.
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The Quadrennial Defense Review sets policy guidance for the military, and some people believe it played a role in reversing a 1991 BRAC decision that would have moved a predecessor of TACOM to Huntsville, Ala.

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