Last week, the New York Times highlighted a workforce training program in San Antonio called Project QUEST that helps hundreds of people every year move out of poverty and into sustainable employment. A recent analysis of the program was particularly encouraging. Nine years after entering training, participants are still experiencing high rates of employment and earning over $5,000 more annually than a similar group that didn’t participate in the program. Such outcomes are rare in workforce development programs.
The Times article came out just as AEI’s Vocation, Career, and Work research team began discussions with Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas, an organization that uses a model similar to Project QUEST. Capital IDEA has been working with low-income families in Austin for more than 20 years to move workers from low-wage to middle-skill jobs. In 2018, program graduates earned an average starting wage of $22 per hour. A previous analysis of the program has found sustained wage gains at least four years after program completion.
[Photo Credit: RealClear Policy]
In Austin, a Public/Private Partnership for Workforce Success, RealClear Policy
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
Business columnist Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle argues that Project QUEST is the most effective workforce development program in the nation. Economist Mark Elliot, CEO of the Economic Mobility Corp., had this to say:
“To see earning differences this large and for this long is unprecedented in the workforce development field.”
In photo above, COPS/Metro leader Sr. Consuelo Tovar fights for local funding of Project QUEST. [Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News] In bottom photos, trainees learn to cradle a newborn and conduct PERRLA evaluations. [Photo Credit: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News]
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation [pdf]
[Remarks below by Dianne Hanley of Together Baton Rouge, delivered at Baton Rouge City Hall]
After the organizing efforts of Together Baton Rouge led to the denial of Exxon Mobil’s tax exemption requests through the Industrial Tax Exemption Program by the Parish School Board, Exxon Mobil withdrew additional tax exemption requests the day before going before the Metro Council for approval. Leaders celebrated Exxon Mobil’s decision to pull the requests for tax exemptions since these did not conform to the clear standards for ITEP established by the city.
About this victory, which results in $6 Million for East Baton Rouge Parish, $2.9 Million for the school district and up to $3 Million for city government, Together BR leader Rev. Lee T. Wesley said that “local standards provide the thing that’s most important, both for our corporate partners and for our community, which is predictability, what’s new is that, for once, it’s not the predictability of a rubber-stamp; it’s the predictability of a genuine standard. That’s a positive and important change.”
At the same time, Together Baton Rouge publicly recognized and commended ExxonMobil’s investment in the community through education and other initiatives. “ExxonMobil is a major asset to our community with a local team that often goes above and beyond to support community efforts,” Together Baton Rouge stated.
[Photo Credit: Hilary Scheinuk, The Advocate]
Project QUEST, the nonprofit workforce development organization created more than a quarter-century ago by the COPS/Metro Alliance, has been awarded a $1 million grant that the organization says will allow it to serve more San Antonians with expanded job training programs.
The award comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of their Communities Thrive Challenge, which awarded $1 million each to 10 organizations across the nation, working to “help low-income and financially insecure people find and retain well-paid, meaningful work, achieve financial security or build economically vibrant neighborhoods.”
San Antonio’s Project QUEST wins national $1 million grant, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Four years after launching living wage campaigns in their respective cities, COPS/Metro and Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated hard won hikes in the lowest wages paid to municipal workers in both San Antonio and Austin. This week, both cities become the first in Texas to set a $15/hour wage floor for city workers. In Austin, this new standard additionally applies to contracted workers, part-time and temporary workers AND to employees of private businesses receiving economic incentives (more in next section).
Leaders also leverage increased city investments in long-term workforce development ($2.4 Million for Capital IDEA and $2.2 Million for Project QUEST) plus affordable housing (San Antonio). Bexar County announced that they, too, would pay their lowest earning employees at least $15/hour. Austin leaders successfully intervened for programs under threat of budget cuts, including PrimeTime after-school programming and parent support specialists in the Austin Independent School District.
Press Statement, COPS/Metro Alliance
Press Statement, Austin Interfaith
San Antonio Ranked Among Nation's Highest-Poverty Cities, Rivard Report
City of San Antonio boosts municipal wages (2015)
City of Austin passes 'Living Budget' and closes labor loophole (2015)
After succeeding in changing how economic incentives are granted in Louisiana, and teaching local municipalities and school districts how much tax exemptions cost the people they serve, Together Baton Rouge (TBR) leaders identified another source of public revenue loss: property tax roll omissions.
Vigilant leaders of TBR discovered that approximately $400 million in taxable property (at four Baton Rouge facilities owned by ExxonMobil) appears to have been omitted from the preliminary 2018 property assessment rolls provided by the East Baton Rouge Parish Tax Assessor.
Left uncorrected, this apparent omission of taxable property would result in a one-year loss of approximately $5.9 million in revenue to East Baton Rouge Parish taxing bodies over the next fiscal year, including a loss of $2.7 million to East Baton Rouge Parish public schools in the current fiscal year (a year in which the school district is running a multi-million deficit).
Holding Their Feet to the Fire, Bayou Brief
Letter to Tax Assessor, Together Baton Rouge
Attachments, Together Baton Rouge
West and Southwest IAF organizations are pioneering workforce initiatives that bring working people out of poverty level jobs and into living wage careers. By building the political will for investment of public monies in long-term training, local organizations have successfully brought together employers, community college officials and community leaders to create long-term workforce development and education programs for actual jobs in high demand occupations.
Inspired by the success of the oldest of these labor market intermediaries, Project Quest in San Antonio, leaders established an additional nine projects in the West and Southwest US: Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas; Project ARRIBA in El Paso, Texas; VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; JobPath in Tucson, Arizona; NOVA in Monroe, Louisiana, Skills-Quest in Dallas, Texas; Capital IDEA-Houston in Houston, Texas; Project IOWA; and Arizona Career Pathways in Phoenix. In 2014, DuPage County United launched its own labor market intermediary, Career Connect Metro West, just outside Chicago.
Collectively, these institutions have trained and placed over 16,000 adults in living wage jobs which pay, on average, $40,000 annually plus benefits and a career path. This number is expected to grow as the West / Southwest IAF expands into Phoenix, Des Moines, Albuquerque and DuPage.
Job Training Can Change Lives. See How San Antonio Does It, New York Times (2019) [pdf]
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled Workers Into Middle-Class, Houston Chronicle (2019)
Texas Job Program Shows Unusually Strong, Lasting Gains, Study Finds, Austin American Statesman [pdf] (2017)
A Capital Idea: We Can’t Think of a More Valuable Initiative, Houston Chronicle (2014)
Job Training Program Adjusts Amid Funding Cuts, Texas Tribune (2013)
School for Success, The American Prospect (2012)
Project Quest a Worthwhile Investment for City, San Antonio Express News (2012)
Workforce Training of Parents Boost Children’s Aspirations
Austin American Statesman (2011)
Tucson Tech: $200,000 Grant to Help Train 50 Adults
Arizona Daily Star (2011)
VIDA Success Stories Multiply; Job-Training Organization Moves Forward
Brownsville Herald (2009)
Building a Career Where There Was Just a Dead End
Washington Post (2007)
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation (2019)
VIDA: Implementation and Early Impact Report, Pathways for Advancing Careers in Education (2018)
Escalating Gains: The Elements of Project QUEST's Success, Economic Mobility Corporation (2018)
Escalating Gains: Project QUEST’S Sectoral Strategy Pays Off, Economic Mobility Corporation (2017)
Economic Impact of Project ARRIBA on El Paso, Texas
UT El Paso, Institute for Policy and Economic Development (2015)
Economic Impacts of the JobPath Program on Pima County
Applied Economics (2014)
VIDA: Economic Impact Study
UT Pan American, Data & Information Systems Center (2010)
Project Quest: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach, Aspen Institute (2001) [pdf]
Beyond Graduation: Promoting Post-Program Engagement & Advancement
Aspen Institute (2009); On the Road to Success video (2010)
Further reading on workforce development strategies
IEF Labor Market Programs, a memo by MIT economist Paul Osterman (2002)
Video about the establishment of Project Quest in San Antonio (1994)
Story about the establishment of Project Quest in San Antonio by COPS/Metro
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith Wins Battles Against Unaccountable Tax Giveaways in Caddo Parish & Beyond
Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders celebrated significant progress in how Caddo-area public officials weigh decisions related to public monies and the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).
As a result of a tenacious local effort, leaders in Caddo Parish succeeded in persuading Sheriff Steve Prator (R) to become the first elected official in the state to deny an ITEP request under the Governor's Executive Order. Caddo School Board soon followed, rejecting Inferno's ITEP request by a vote of 7-5. Even after the Caddo School Board President called a special session to reconsider Inferno's request, the board rejected the request -- again.
After Sheriff Prator rejected all ITEP applications by Calumet, the Caddo Board attorney attempted to rewrite board policy to automatically accept all ITEP applications presented. NCLI successfully defeated the motion.
The City of Shreveport eventually approved a separate ITEP request by Calumet but, after intervention by the leadership of NCLI, reduced the approval to only 31-50% of the request.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Chamber of Commerce then attempted to present a matrix to the School Board to use as a guide when considering future requests. But NCLI was quick to respond with their own matrix, presented to the Board by Reverend Theron Jackson. The School Board eventually integrated NCLI demands into a revised matrix.
Not blind to what was going on, nearby Bossier Parish School Board and Police Jury decided to bypass the controversy and reject Calumet's ITEP request outright!
After two years of hard work on tax exemptions in Louisiana, Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith leaders are proud of their work and looking to shift their attention to other pressing issues impacting their communities.
ITEP Matrix, Caddo Parish School Board
Calumet Estimated Property Taxes, Updated
After compelling testimony and intervention by leaders from Northern & Central Louisiana Interfaith, the Shreveport City Council reduced Calumet's tax exemption request by 49%. The original request was for $858,444.30 and the amount approved totaled $437,769.70.Read more