Workforce Development

Workforce Solutions Grant Program

Do you have a project idea that could make west central Minnesota a better place to work and run a business?

West Central Initiative would like to talk with you about your idea. We’re looking for ways we might be able to work with 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations or units of government to complete projects that improve our region’s ability to attract and retain a workforce that possesses the talents needed to strengthen the economy of west central Minnesota. WCI’s new Workforce Solutions Grant Program will provide funding to test these ideas. The total amount available for distribution through Workforce Solutions is $150,000.


Meet Some of our Workforce Solutions Grantees

  • A mini job fair for newly graduated welders from Minnesota State Community and Technical College was made possible by a collaboration that included M State along with the United Way of Cass-Clay and the Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership. WCI helped fund the 2018 event.

  • Douglas County Car Care helps provide reliable transportation for people with low incomes, either by repairing their current vehicles or providing them with a new (to them) vehicle.

  • Nursing Simulation Learning Center

    “We are incredibly grateful for the grant provided by West Central Initiative to provide the funding for standardized faculty and staff training to make the Simulation Learning Center a place where students can achieve excellence in nursing for our community.” Merilee Retzloff, RN, MSN, Dean of Nursing and Health, Alexandria Technical & Community College

  • The CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) program at Breckenridge High School was made possible by a partnership with CHI St .Francis Health and by a $15,000 Workforce Solutions grant from West Central Initiative.


WCI will award grants to projects that help solve skill gaps in west central Minnesota.

Successful applicants will propose workforce solutions that help people obtain the knowledge, skills and supports needed to fill higher paying positions in the region. Simultaneously, these projects will strengthen the competitiveness of west central Minnesota employers by ensuring that employers are supportive of, and have access to, talented workers.

Two types of grants, each with a different maximum award, will be offered:

  1. Local Impact: These grants target workforce development at the community level. The maximum award is $15,000.
  2. Multi-County Impact: These grants are for projects that reach participants in more than one of the counties served by West Central Initiative. Applicants will be invited to apply for up to $7,500 per county with a maximum award of $67,500 (9 x $7,500).


OUTCOMES⤒ Return to top



By supporting projects that expand your workforce development activities, two types of outcomes will be achieved:

  1. People will gain the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to explore, obtain employment and advance in careers located in west central Minnesota.
  2. Employers will experience increased success in attracting, hiring, training and advancing workers in careers.


PROJECT EXAMPLES  ⤒ Return to top

Some examples of possible projects are listed below.  These examples are for illustrative purposes. Your idea may be very different from the examples, and that is quite all right. 

  • Transitional Jobs Programs: These programs provide real work experience, supportive services, and earned income for the chronically unemployed. Transitional jobs programs train participants on work culture and routines, and help them establish employment records and references.
  • New American Bridge Training: New immigrants who have completed their professional education in other countries are provided with training in cultural, technical or literacy skills needed to promote their rapid integration into the labor force.        
  • Career-Focused Mentoring: Program matches youth with adult mentors who help them explore careers in the region specific to his or her interests. Mentoring interactions are intentionally focused on helping youth identify and explore their career interests rather than just providing general support and encouragement.
  • Teachers in Industry: Through a partnership between school districts, post-secondary and industry, teachers are offered a combination of paid summer work experiences and intensive coursework leading to either professional development credits or a master's degree focused on STEM education.  The purpose is to equip teachers with experiences needed to prepare their students for the 21st century workforce.
  • Age-Friendly Work Places: Programming intended to increase retention of seniors as productive workers through promotion of strategies such as flexible work schedules, job sharing, and phased retirement programs.
  • West Central Teleworks: Project will diversify the economy of west central Minnesota by bringing in high-demand, high-growth telework jobs while recruiting and preparing workers for those jobs, making it possible for more people in west central Minnesota to have rewarding careers while staying in their local communities.


GUIDELINES⤒ Return to top


IT BEGINS WITH A CONVERSATION. Contact Wendy Merrick, WCI Program Director, to discuss your idea. This will allow you, a potential applicant, to vet your project idea before developing a proposal. WCI staff will use the conversation to identify projects that have a reasonable chance of success in the WCI grant process. If your project idea is likely to lead to the outcomes described below and the amount WCI has available would make a difference to the project, WCI will invite you to prepare an application.


Grant proposals will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.  Applications will be accepted until all funds are allocated.

Eligible proposals must:

  • Be submitted by a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization or unit of government willing to accept financial responsibility for the project.  Further, the applicant must be a non-discriminatory, equal opportunity employer and service provider.
  • Address and document a workforce challenge within WCI's service region (Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin counties);
  • Focus on industries in the region that have job openings paired with a shortage of qualified workers; and
  • Provide a 1:1 dollar-for-dollar match. The match may be cash or in-kind, however projects providing cash match may be given funding priority.   


WCI will not support:

  • Fund drives, grant writing, or fundraising programs;
  • Capital campaigns;
  • Lobbying or political activities. 


WCI places a low priority on:

  • Programs focused on low-wage jobs;
  • Jobs with a limited demand in west central Minnesota.


REVIEW CRITERIA ⤒ Return to top


The criteria that will be used as a basis for funding decisions are listed below. 

  • Work Plan:  The proposal plainly describes the need for the project and the action steps to be taken. Sufficient time and personnel have been allocated to execute the activities described in the proposal.
  • Budget:  The budget is reasonable and adds up. Sufficient detail is provided regarding usage of funds. Projects that provide cash match may be given priority.
  • Collaboration:  The applicant has formed alliances with employers and other organizations to implement their project and sustain the work.
  • Evaluation:  The applicant clearly communicates what project success will look like and how impact will be measured. The project’s evaluative measures clearly relate to one or both of the two outcomes that this grant program is intended to impact.


It is unlikely that a community will receive more than one workforce development grant per year even if the associated partners and the project focus are different.  




A meeting to discuss project ideas is a required first step in the Workforce Solutions grant application process. To schedule a discussion, please contact Wendy Merrick, 1-800-735-2239,  


Project ideas that fit the outcomes WCI is seeking to achieve and that could clearly benefit from the grant amount WCI has available will be invited to submit an application.


Proposals will be reviewed by West Central Initiative staff using stated grant guidelines and criteria. Site visits will be conducted with viable proposals. Recommendations will be provided to WCI leadership and/or the WCI Board who will make the final determination of awards.


DEADLINES ⤒ Return to top


Requests will be accepted on an ongoing basis until all funds have been awarded. Applications for $7,500 or less will usually be processed within three weeks. Larger requests may take up to six weeks. Requests must be made with enough lead time for WCI to conduct a site visit and make a funding decision before any costs are incurred.


QUESTIONS ⤒ Return to top


Contact Wendy Merrick, 1-800-735-2239,, with questions or to begin a conversation about your project idea.