Mr. Pscholka goes to Benton Harbor

Al Pscholka, a former state budget director and legislator and now vice president of public relations and government affairs for Kinexus Group, talks with Jasmine Biggs, a graduate of the agency’s Bridge Academy and YouthBuild, and now an assistant manager for YouthBuild. Pscholka has brought his experience in Lansing, and other ventures, to the workforce development office in Benton Harbor.

BENTON HARBOR — What do you do after you’ve been a state budget director, three-term legislator, congressional aide, township trustee, and an economic development executive?

Some people might have finessed that into a lucrative position with a lobbying firm, or run for higher office.

Al Pscholka, of Stevensville, decided to take his experiences in state and local government (and his communication skills as a broadcaster) and bring them to Kinexus Group, as vice president of public relations and government affairs. He joined the agency in March 2018.

The nonprofit workforce development agency helps people with everything “from a GED to a Ph.D.,” Pscholka said from his Benton Harbor office. Last year, Pscholka said the agency worked with 415 employers and placed 3,000 people in jobs in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.

After serving six years as representative for the 79th House District and a term as appropriations chairman, Pscholka spent a year as Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget director. Before being elected to the House, he had been an aide to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, served as a Lincoln Township trustee for eight years and a vice president with the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce from 1996 to 2004. He was part owner of COSY Broadcasting and a sportscaster for WSJM.

There was a lot of speculation as to Pscholka’s next career move when he left Lansing, and whether he would run for the state Senate seat vacated by John Proos due to term limits, or even for Congress when Upton retires.

He appears pretty satisfied with his choice at this point.

One of their recent success stories is Jasmine Bibbs. She graduated from Bridge Academy for youth at risk of not completing their high school education, and then enrolled in YouthBuild, a vocational training program focusing on careers in construction and health care.

She was then offered a position as an assistant manager with YouthBuild.

“It’s made a big difference in my life,” Bibbs said. “It’s opened doors.” She hopes to get a license in construction or welding, and start her own program with Kinexus.

Pscholka talked with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer John Matuszak about his work.

Tell people who aren’t familiar with Kinexus what it does?

The idea is to inspire positive economic change one person a a time, one business at a time, one community at a time. Kinexus Group has three nonprofits (including Michigan Works) and one for-profit company underneath it. We have statewide programs, but most of the work we do is in Southwest Michigan.

How much did you know about Kinexus as a legislator?

I’m seeing it now from the other side, where the rubber meets the road. When I was in the legislature Kinexus started Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates as a pilot program, and we got some funding to start it in Southwest Michigan. Now it’s statewide and has worked with 3,000 at-risk kids, with 500 in Southwest Michigan and 900 in Detroit. People are surprised to learn we have a program in Detroit out of Benton Harbor.

What did you learn about Kinexus when you came here?

What most surprised me is that they have 20 different programs, and 72 funding sources. It’s everything from a GED to a Ph.D. We have an alternative school, we have an offenders program for people coming out of prison that has the highest placement rate in the state. Jobs for Michigan Graduates for at-risk youth has a 98 percent graduation rate. We just won a national award a couple of weeks ago.

How to do like the workplace?

This is probably the best team I’ve ever worked on. What struck me when I started about a year and a half ago was that there were no egos. They have a concept called team of teams ... The teams interconnect and intersect, and everybody kind of has everybody’s back. It’s not like you have to pull teeth to get somebody up on something. Everybody seems to chip in.

How does that contrast with working in the legislature?

It’s a lot different than being in politics, or even the politics in your own caucus, where people are supposed to be on your own team, but maybe sometimes they’re not.

What other reasons did you have for leaving Lansing?

I wanted to be home. I was living in Lansing while I was working in the budget office, and there’s no comparison to Southwest Michigan. We’re way ahead here in quality of life and things to do, it’s not even close. And being a grandpa. I want to make this area better for my grandkids.

How is the government funding situation for job training?

I’ve been watching the debates and I’ve been disappointed that this hasn’t been a topic. The number one thing we’re hearing from businesses is about the labor shortage and the shortage in skills. We need to invest in that for businesses and companies to be successful. In the last decade federal funding (for job training) is down 40 percent ... The governor did not have funding for Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates in her executive recommendations. We were able to to get the funding restored in both the House and Senate budgets. Now we’re waiting on the final budget.

From your experience, how do you get the attention of legislators on these issues?

It’s about building trust. You build relationships with data. You make sure what you are selling to legislators actually does work. We’ve got a great story to tell here. We have a program with a 98 percent graduation rate, when the state graduation rate is 80 percent. We take the toughest kids in Michigan, work with them on employment skills, get them through high school, and connect them with employers.

What are some other projects that people might not know about?

The Dual Career Network works with employers who are hiring people who have spouses who are also looking for work. We have people coming from Chicago, Boston, Detroit. We’re working with companies from Grand Rapids to South Bend that are helping spouses find opportunities here. Companies are bringing in talent at the Ph.D. and master’s level. We placed 25 people last year, with an average wage of $75,000.

Anything you miss about being a legislator?

I miss the work, but I don’t miss the politics. It’s become too divisive and polarized.

Think you’ll ever run for office again?

I’m pretty happy where I’m at, but they say never say never.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak