Wyoming Seeks Federal Grant To Retrain Workers In Coal Country

Jul 5, 2016

A shovel moves overburden at the Eagle Butte coal mine near Gillette in this file photo from August, 2014.
Credit Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services is applying for a federal grant to help retrain workers affected by coal’s downturn. 

The $2 million dollar Department of Labor grant would be available to anyone laid off in seven affected Wyoming counties. It is part of a larger Obama administration initiative to help retrain workers in coal country.

Susan Bigelow is in charge of economic development at Northern Wyoming Community College, one of the partners on the grant. She says they would have liked to apply for the money sooner, but that the state wasn’t eligible until more than 50 people had been laid off from the coal industry.

“We didn’t meet the minimum threshold, and then we met it ten times over in one day,” she said, referring to mass layoffs at the mines in April. 

Bigelow says inevitably, the fact the grant wasn't available sooner will mean some laid-off workers will leave the state.

“What I’m more worried about is that the state will run out of money about the time that people have also run out of unemployment or their severance and we won’t have funds to help them be retrained,” she said. 

She says the grant would help ensure that doesn’t happen.If awarded, the grant would support retraining in a variety of different fields. Workforce Services is hoping to submit its application by the end of the month.