Regional Transportation Training Center gets $2 million in federal funds

Miriam Morales. Photo by Robert Chappell.

A few years ago, Miriam Morales was working two part-time jobs while also working as a full-time mom. 

“I knew that I needed to thrive, and find something financially stable for my son and I in a better future,” she said at a public event Tuesday at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development.

She joined the Latino Academy’s Commercial Driver License (CDL) training program in 2019; shortly thereafter, she landed an internship with Dane County’s Highway Department.

Today, she’s a skilled laborer, the first Latina to work in that department.

“The CDL program is a wonderful career opportunity and offers competitive wages and opportunities for career advancement. I am still advancing,” she said. “This program has changed my life and has the power to change the lives of many individuals.”

At about the same time, Tristian Greer was transitioning from incarceration to the community when he connected with an Urban League of Greater Madison training program that landed him a job in construction, and then went through the Latino Academy’s CDL program. Now he works for Bachman Construction, where he is a carpenter who’s also able to drive supplies between job sites.

“The CDL program was something that helped me because it benefits me and my company,” Greer said. “I’m in a much better situation financially, mentally, health wise, everything. I don’t worry for much anymore.”

Baltazar de Anda Santana.

The Latino Academy of Workforce Development has many such stories, but wants to create more. Currently, about 75 people go through the CDL program every year, but the Latino Academy turns away at least that many, executive director Baltazar de Anda Santana said.

To solve that issue, the Latino Academy is looking to raise $10 million to open its new Regional Transportation Training Center somewhere in Dane County.

De Anda Santana said he intends to buy five more trucks and hire at least four more instructors with a goal to more than double the number of students earning CDLs every year.

The first big step toward that fundraising goal came in the form of a federal appropriation of $2 million, secured by US Senator Tammy Baldwin and announced at an event Tuesday.

“People often don’t think twice as they go by a semi truck on the highway. But it is a critical link in our supply chain inaction supporting our Wisconsin businesses,” Baldwin said. “In Wisconsin, we make things and we need to ensure we have a strong workforce to transport our goods to market. In fact, 94% of goods traveled by truck in our state, and 77% of our communities rely exclusively on trucks to get their products to market. But in recent years, and especially during the pandemic, we’ve seen a severe shortage of new workers entering this trade. In order to grow this field, and to keep our supply chains strong, it’s essential that we recruit and train more drivers. And that’s why I’m so proud to support initiatives like this one here at Latina Latino Academy, that are leading the way to get more Wisconsinites on the road, diversifying our truck driving workforce, and moving our made in Wisconsin economy forward.”

US Sen. Tammy Baldwin

County Executive Joe Parisi also spoke at the event, citing the Latino Academy and Urban League training programs for helping to keep the county government staffed.

“We have a large highway department,” he told the crowd of about 100 people at the event. “You may see the big orange trucks plowing the streets in the wintertime and fixing the highways and the roads in the summertime. And we, like everyone else, need a strong diverse pool of candidates. And we, like everyone else, are facing a workforce shortage.”

He said so far, the county has made about 20 hires from Latino Academy and Urban League trainees.

De Anda Santana said he has not yet secured a location for the new RTTC, but believes it will be in Dane County. The Latino Academy will officially open its new headquarters in Fitchburg next week.