SPRINGDALE — The City Council will consider upgrades to its computer systems and workforce education for the community during its next regular meeting June 14. The money would come from the city’s allotment of American Rescue Plan funds.
The council, working Monday as a Committee of the Whole, gave initial approval to using $2.5 million to establish the Upskill program for workforce development and job placement of the Excellerate Foundation. The council also will consider spending $600,000 for computer equipment.
The city received $9,194,245 under the rescue plan to replace revenue lost during the closures of many businesses and corresponding reduced sales tax receipts in the face of covid-19.
The Upskill program would allow residents who lack resources to make changes for their families and fill essential jobs in the region’s medical industry, said Jeff Webster, president and chief executive officer for Upskill. He spoke to the council about the program in February.
The city’s money would support Northwest Technical Institute, with $2 million provided to help build an expansion and $900,000 for programming, Mayor Doug Sprouse told council members on Monday.
The region’s largest health care systems would agree to hire graduates of the program, Webster said. Upskill staff members would step in with social services for the students, as needed.
Graduates in return would agree to work for two years at the medical companies that hire them, Webster continued.
The council in February approved spending $3 million for the Upskill program, which would provide funding for the Northwest Arkansas Community College to also provide programming.
Sprouse explained when the rules of the rescue plan were fine-tuned, the amounts for each school needed to be defined.
NWACC would make its own request for funding, he explained.
Excellerate officials approached the governments of both counties in Northwest Arkansas and the region’s big four cities to fund the program, Webster said. The requests were based on 4% of a city’s allotment from the American Rescue Plan for covid recovery, he noted.
Money from the state and philanthropists also is expected to support building and programming.
The city’s Information Technology Department has asked for $607,600 to upgrade the city’s systems and increase its cybersecurity.
The money would be spent on upgrades providing increased bandwidth, connectivity and cybersecurity, said Mark Gutte, director of the department.
Officials said cybersecurity was one focus of the rescue plan. Old and outdated programs can cause security issues, said Colby Fulfer, the city’s chief of staff.
The city also would buy 75 laptops for city employees with rescue plan money.
“When the pandemic hit and everything shut down, we realized we didn’t have very many laptops,” Gutte said.
He said employees able to work remotely took their desktop computers home.
“But we asked, ‘What would we do if this happened again?’ We’ve learned some jobs have to continue,” he said.
Gutte noted employees also would be able to use the laptops in meetings and for other collaboration.
Not every city employee will receive a laptop though. The city has 600 employees, he said.