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If you are a business owner in Idaho, about 3 percent of the money you pay to the state in unemployment insurance tax goes to the state Department of Labor’s Workforce Development Training Fund. That money is used by businesses to train employees.

But not all businesses are eligible, which means employers will be paying into a program that helps only select industries train workers.

At quick, cursory glance, this might seem unfair. Government picking winners and losers. Government meddling in the private sector, where it doesn’t belong. You’ve heard the Libertarian arguments before.

Here’s how it works. In order to qualify for funding, you must represent a business that produces a product to be sold mostly outside of the region the business is located. An urban-county business must create five new jobs (one in a rural county), and starting wage must be at least $12 an hour with employer-assisted benefits.

Why must the business sell most of its product out of the region? Simply put, to bring “new money” into the state, as opposed to recycling existing Idaho dollars over and over.

And that’s what makes the program worthy of support and continuation. It’s designed to expand the Idaho economy by bringing in money that wasn’t here before.

Another nice aspect of the program is that it doesn’t just give business money upfront to use for training. The applicants themselves must pony up the cash first, then the state will reimburse them after the fact. That reduces the risk of scams or unstable firms taking the money and running.

Is there a risk the businesses will use the program, pay for the training and then fail? Sure. There are no guarantees. Such was the case with Transform Solar in Nampa, which got $1.5 million from the program over two years before closing and laying off 150 workers.

Idaho’s Solyndra? Not quite. Remember, the money was used to train workers only, and those trained workers were able to parlay that training into other jobs in Boise. Having a better-trained workforce is never a bad thing.

It’s also encouraging to see that the jobs must provide decent pay and benefits. Let’s hope that helps reverse the trend that has given Idaho the stereotype of a low-wage, low-skilled state that doesn’t value education.

Since its inception in 1996, the fund has paid out about $32 million to train some 22,000 workers. There’s no way to accurately estimate how much money that has brought into the state, but given the way the program is set up, it’s a wise investment in Idaho’s economy.

* Our view is based on the majority opinions of the Idaho Press-Tribune editorial board. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges and community members Kim Keller, Carlos Soriano, Timothy Brown, Taylor Raney, Ken Pieksma and Nicole Gibbs.

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