Council Allocates $200,000 for Workforce Development Program with NorthShore Health System

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Evanston Hospital is one of nine hospitals that are part of the NorthShore University Health System. (Photo by Evan Girard) Credit: Evan Girard

Members of the Evanston City Council agreed Feb. 14 to allocate $200,000 of federal funds from the U.S. Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) to launch a labor program designed to create a pipeline between Evanston residents and healthcare jobs.

The city’s contribution matches a $200,000 contribution from the NorthShore University Health System.

In a sometimes heated discussion, board members voted 5-4 to approve the funds. The $400,000 investment is to be used to launch the ASPIRE Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program to develop a labor pool, investing in students and young adults in the Evanston community by helping them offering training courses and other employment opportunities in the field of health.

Some council members, however, expressed reservations about allocating the funds without a better picture of where the city stands on the ARPA funds it has received.

Evanston officials learned last year that the city would receive $43.1 million in federal COVID recovery funds, news officials hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet long-standing needs.

Other major council-led demands

The city has already allocated more than $15 million of these funds for its own infrastructure as well as parking and water system needs.

Meanwhile, big requests for funds from private groups will soon come before the city, including a request for $1 million from The Aux, a group that hopes to create a black business center in southwest Evanston. , and $2 million from Northlight Theater to help with its move to a new home in downtown Evanston.

Discussing NorthShore’s application, Council Member Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said: “I’m sure it’s a good idea, but we’ve kept telling people that we’re developing a process and a plan to the [ARPA] bailout fund.

“And so I guess I’m just, without an overall plan, concerned about this expense. Looks like NorthShore and a resident would put some money there. So, you know, even without the bailout funds, maybe they would still do it, because they think it’s a good idea.

She also noted that the city recently promoted Nathan Norman to the city’s new director of workforce development.

“It will be good to see what his overall plan is [is] … if he is going to have another request [for funds beyond the $200,000]“, said Fleming.

Thomas Suffredin, member of the sixth district council, agrees.

“I think the appropriate time to allocate the $200,000, if that’s what we choose to do, is after we have an overall plan,” he said.

With similar demands going on, he said, “we’re undermining our credibility when it comes to when we have to say ‘no’ to people.”

He recommended that board members vote “No” to the $200,000 and wait for a full plan that establishes a framework for visualizing requests, “and that’s when we can talk about allocating funds”.

5th Ward council member Bobby Burns called the discussion ‘difficult’, saying he would likely vote for the request but was also concerned about the lack of an overall plan for the city regarding spending federal.

With ARPA funds, he observed at the meeting, “The only thing we did was create categories. Again, this is not a plan; [those are] goals.”

What is needed, he said, is “a conversation between all of us so that we are all on the same page about our goals, our programs.

“And I think if we could figure that out, we could move a lot faster,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t mind bringing in a project manager for the funds. ARPA, as some cities have done.

Devon Reid, Council Member, 8th Ward, said he estimated officials spent 75% of the first installment of ARPA funds, or about half of the $43.1 million.

Overall, he said, “we’ve spent a third or more of the money we’re going to get; and, so, while I think this particular program is good, and I think in economic development I voted for that, I didn’t vote for some of the other expenses.

Eleanor Revelle, Council Member, 7th District, acknowledged Council members’ desire for a “big spreadsheet,” providing guidelines on how they could spend federal stimulus money.

“But that’s obviously not how it goes,” Revelle said.

“The Economic Development Committee, however,” she said, “has met and reviewed the economic development proposals. So I think we sort of suggested that it was a process.

She said she was ready to vote “Yes” for the program.

“It has tremendous community support from a number of very good community partners who are ready to step in and make this initiative a success,” she said.

“So it is very important that we provide our share of funding for this program.

“I think this is a really well thought out initiative and has every indication of success… reaching District 65 [and] District 202 students,” she said, “and then, really intentionally, provide opportunities and training for young adults.

“I think it really hits all the groups that we continually seek to reach with workforce training,” she said.

“Applause”: Braithwaite

Peter Braithwaite, member of the second ward council, spoke about the work of the economic development committee, talking about the process that would be used to fund such requests.

“We all cheered and decided that was going to be our framework on how we were going to measure a successful project through economic development,” Braithwaite said.

“So I’m ready to support that,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful initiative, with a hospital bringing much-needed jobs to our community.”

Third Ward Council member Melissa Wynne said, “I understand that we would all like to know exactly where each of those ARPA dollars will go up front.

“But that money has arrived,” she reminded Council members. “These proposals are coming in. We’ve had several meetings here at the board where we figured out which buckets [categories] that we would have. These buckets weren’t to spec, but there was agreement that that’s usually where that money was going to go.

Wynne calls for action

“We’ve had these proposals at the Economic Development Committee for several months,” Wynne said.

“We all agreed that workforce development is one of the most important issues here at Evanston. It is an investment in our future. That’s exactly what this ARPA money is designed to do, invest in our economic future.

She urged council members to stop postponing the action.

“Please let’s get things done,” she said.

The vote was 5 to 4 in favor of the award. Council members, Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, voted in favour; Braithwaite; Reyd; Revelle and Wynne. Council members voted against Clare Kelly, 1st Ward; Burns; Fleming and Suffredin.

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