Opposition to the proposed shutdown of the Flatwoods Job Corps center continues to grow.
Joining the chorus of protests last week were local community activist organizations, more community leaders and a national labor union.
May 30, Appalachian Voices issued a press release featuring comments from several people on the proposal.
It noted that on that day, the federal Department of Labor published notice in the Federal Register of regulations that nine Job Corps centers operated by the U.S. Forest Service could be closed, including Flatwoods.
The proposal will be subject to a formal comment period through June.
“It’s believed to be the largest federal employee layoff in a decade,” the release states.
Three of the centers, including Coeburn and two in Kentucky, “serve coal-mining communities that are facing significant economic distress,” it notes.
“The Trump administration is choosing to cut spending in communities where it is needed most, and shows they are totally disconnected with people in rural America,” said Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices’ regional community and economic development director. “Rather than closing down these job centers, they should be doubling down on successful programs like the one at Flatwoods CCC in Coeburn, which recently wrapped up its first round of solar energy installation training. Instead, they are trying to pull the plug on a good, sustainable economic driver that has served our community for decades.”
Big Stone Gap Councilman Tyler Hughes noted that Flatwoods has “been instrumental in maintaining the infrastructure needed for our new eco-tourism economy. The loss of the center will have a negative effect that will be felt by all of the communities in Wise County.”
Taysha DeVaughan, president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and member of the new Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, said: “This is a region that is already struggling economically compared to the rest of Virginia and this would be another financial blow to our communities in Wise County. Having a just transition from the decline of coal should include training for skilled type work or labor, and this high-performance center has been serving that exact type of training and job placement for almost a decade.”
Wise County Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Monty Salyer said in his job, he has seen the “overwhelming benefits” of job training programs at Flatwoods. Closing the facility, he said, “would have a ripple effect on so many businesses, individuals, and our communities in Wise County. This is a tragedy.”
Wise County Circuit Court Clerk Jack Kennedy, who has been active in regional development initiatives for years, said: “The job losses, the services utilized and the contribution trainees make to the Jefferson National Forest and other community-related projects will likely not be replaced for at least a generation. Closure will be one more blow to outward migration of our workforce, more stress on local economic conditions and a reduction in the county tax base.”
On May 29, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades issued a press release criticizing the overall proposed changes in Job Corps programs. The union noted that it has been involved with Job Corps for 50 years and is one of five building trades unions offering training programs through Job Corps.
“This is stunning news,” said Andrew Larson, national project coordinator for the union’s Job Corps pre-apprenticeship program. “Job Corps training programs are wildly successful in training at-risk young people for real-world jobs that help communities and give these kids a bright future.”
The action will result in the layoff of 1,100 federal employees, the union stated.