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New Bill Replicates Pittsburgh's Manchester-Bidwell Program

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and if it’s up to two Pennsylvania politicians, the rest of the nation will flatter Pittsburgh’s Manchester-Bidwell Corporation.

Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) have introduced legislation modeled after the local program.

The National Program for Arts and Technology Act would help communities create centers to teach unemployed and underemployed adults and at-risk-youth the skills needed to be competitive in the marketplace.

A $25 million appropriation would go to the Department of Education to distribute in planning grants over five years to the centers.

Programs based on Pittsburgh’s Manchester-Bidwell Corp. have already started in Cleveland, San Francisco, Grand Rapids and Cincinnati.

“What we’re saying is when you have a recipe and a formula for success that’s working and putting people who have had a hard time acquiring the type of job skills that they need to be employable suddenly become employable and earning a living and paying taxes, this is something that you want to share with the rest of the country,” Doyle said.

Manchester-Bidwell provides a diverse list of services from providing a label and classes for aspiring jazz musicians to teaching adults how to grow hydroponic tomatoes to sell to Giant Eagle.

Doyle said the replicated centers are art- and technology-based and would concentrate on coordinating with the community.

“In Pittsburgh it could be as simple as with all this natural gas exploration one of the local natural gas exploration companies saying ‘We need people with these skills to work and currently we are trouble finding people with this skillset in this area because it’s not an area where we historically do a lot of drilling,’” Doyle said.

The centers must meet quarterly performance goals concerning students’ attendance and behavior, recruitment and enrollment metrics, student outcomes and performance in training and job placement.

Doyle said he knows only about 70 percent of young people in the country are going to graduate high school, but the statistics rise to about 89 to 94 percent with these programs.

“I think people see this as a second chance and a way to acquire some skills to give them a life after they acquire the skills," Doyle said. "So it’s contagious, it’s just a tremendous program and I think the proof is always in the pudding."