Coal transition sparks lively discussion at Economic Development meeting

A representative from the Colorado Department of Labor joined Monday’s Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting to discuss the State’s on-going engagement with energy workforce.

Shelley Siman of the Office of Just Transitions attended via Zoom to present the findings from a recent energy workforce survey. Siman also outlined proposed support for both pre-closure and post-closure/premature closure scenarios.

When confronted with concerns from committee members regarding the uncertain future of the current workforce, Siman noted that her office is exploring a number of assistance options to help provide extra security for impacted workers, including supplemental health insurance through the state, extended unemployment and unemployment supplements and retirement gap financing. She also touched on assistance with job searches and transitions, relocation and tuition assistance.

“We are looking at other models from across the world to see what exists and what we could actually do here (in Craig).”

During the conversation, committee member P.J. Howe proposed lump sum payouts to displaced workers. Siman responded that with the current available funding of $15 million and number of impacted workers estimated to be upwards of 3,000, payouts are not a viable options.

“If you divide (it up), that money is not going to go very far; that’s why we’re looking at more of a programmatic approach, to see if we can’t stretch that as far as possible.”

Facing additional pushback from Howe and claims of being out of touch from the reality of the situation, Siman sympathized.

“I get it. I totally understand,” Siman said. “I’ve been through having my job cut as well by the state. It was not a pleasant experience … I understand the fear and crisis of losing your job. Our office is doing what it can to get some of these things up in place and make it be useful.”

Siman shared that her office is also looking to hire someone in the Moffat County community to provide “a little bit more of that real-time on the ground information. To plan out where is the greatest need and what are people saying at that moment in time that they need access to.”

Noting that “every person’s situation is different,” Simon acknowledged that some workers may not be receptive to switching careers, but said others have expressed interest in new education and training opportunities or receiving assistance with starting their own small business.

Siman added that the unions and employers are already engaged in the larger conversation as well and have expressed their willingness to address some post-closure concerns, but her office intends to have plans and programs in place should they be of need.

From that comment, the conversation segued to the role of employers in the transition process. The committee members agreed that good communication between the companies and the community is key. Economic Development Manager Shannon Scott shared that during a meeting with Senator Bennet and Tri-State’s CEO “that message was communicated.”

She continued that Moffat County “needs more transparency on actual closure dates because we have a really interesting dynamic with this timing issue. We’re actively recruiting and trying to repurpose some of our assets that we actually know we have, but how are we able to effectively take the workers out and put them in another industry if we don’t know what the timing is?”

City Council liaison Tom Kleinschnitz agreed, adding that, “the aerospace (representatives) were asking when the workforce is going to be available. So it’s this same kind of question — it’s timing.”

And while an official timeline remains elusive, the workforce can understand that there are many working on their behalf to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.