The Highlands Economic Partnership launched the new Highlands Training Center during a grand opening event Tuesday, Jan. 24.
In early 2022, the Upper Cumberland collaborative aimed at alleviating poverty in the region — Empower Upper Cumberland — was selected to receive $25 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Opportunity Act funds to implement its plan to move families away from the traditional poverty management model and toward poverty alleviation; seeking to lift children and their families out of poverty rather than treating the symptoms of poverty in the current poverty management system.
The Empower UC collective impact group was formed with key community and regional partners including HEP, Upper Cumberland Labor and Workforce Development Board, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation, Upper Cumberland Development District, WCTE Central TN PBS, Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, as well as community members.
HEP, a four-county economic development partnership under the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, was allocated $1.5 million of the TANF Opportunity Act funds to establish the new training center as part of the Empower UC project.
This center will focus on workforce reentry, providing training on resume and cover letter writing, salary negotiation, emotional intelligence along with professional development to community members hovering at or below the poverty line to decrease those on government assistance and increase the average median income of families in the Upper Cumberland. Additionally, the center will be one of only seven non-profit, accredited training centers throughout the state.
“Our primary goal and mission within the Highlands Training Center is to fill our community’s workforce needs with individuals, enriched with life skills and motivated by a strong work ethic,” said Ryan Barnhart, Executive Director. “By accomplishing these goals, we will have a profound positive impact on populations of poverty for generations to come.”
Barnhart brings years of experience managing multiple vocational rehabilitation facilities and working closely with state partners to ensure the alignment of education programs with employer needs. Along with Barnhart, two additional staff members will lead the daily operations, market HTC-approved programs to state and local partners, and partner with local businesses to hire new graduates.
Tony Whiteaker, Director of Operations, offers experience in developing employee training programs throughout his 15 years with the Tennessee Department of Human Services overseeing the training programs at the Cookeville Rehabilitation Center. Additionally, Whiteaker has a longstanding history of working with industries and has guided clients into new career paths by teaching them necessary job skills.
Stacey Baxter will serve as the Highlands Training Center Specialist. Baxter brings years of experience in public relations, marketing and working with nonprofit organization leaders. Baxter previously served as the Student/Trainer Coordinator for Averitt from 2006 until 2010, where she was responsible for interviewing drivers, matching students and trainers to ensure they were up to date on latest industry standards and was responsible for overseeing time allocation and payroll details for students and trainers.
“We are excited to have this incredible team working for our training center,” said Amy New, President and CEO of the Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and HEP. “I am certain they will drive the training center’s efforts and help create a lasting impact.”
After completing the eight-week HTC coursework, participants will work with HTC staff to match their personal and professional goals with local industries to find the best fit for the client and HEP investors, as well as all local industry sectors in need of a workforce.
Led by UCHRA, the designated backbone organization, Empower UC will serve the most vulnerable populations of the 14-county Upper Cumberland region with a core objective of lifting 1,600 children and their families out of generational poverty by 2025.
Interagency coordination is the focus of Empower UC. This means families will have better-aligned services and the staff who administer the program will have a clearer understanding of the system. Universal onboarding will supply new members of the collaboration with information about the resources available, the continuum of care, and the poverty alleviation system.
This project is funded under a grant contract with the State of Tennessee.