Around the State- Northwest- Sept. 2000
Rural-county manufacturers are getting involved
in training, transportation and child care.
By Julie S. Bettinger
When even Disney World is having trouble finding workers, what's a rural-county employer in need of skilled employees supposed to do? Get creative -- tap into the 23,000 people in the six-county region who live at or below the poverty level and offer free transportation, training scholarships, books and supplies, paid internships, even child care.
In these days of historically low unemployment, it's taking a concerted effort among the North Florida Workforce Development Board, Taylor Technical Institute and local manufacturers to keep prospects in the employment pipeline.
About 30% of Taylor County's jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 7% statewide. Taylor is in the top five per capita for manufacturing jobs, with more than 26 firms. To meet the workforce demands of those industries and others in surrounding counties, Taylor Technical Institute started working closely with local employers, as early as 1988, to better match its coursework with job descriptions. Three of the 10 programs the school now offers are geared toward manufacturing and represent about a third of the enrollment.
Students who finish a program are almost guaranteed a job, according to the school's director, Ken Olsen. Taylor Tech has a 90% or better placement rate in technical programs. The positions that students are trained for are lucrative and offer long-term prospects. Buckeye Florida (formerly Procter & Gamble Cellulose), the largest employer in Taylor County, pays its operators and mechanics on average between $45,000 to $50,000 after only five to 10 years on the job, says Michele Curtis, human resources manager. And while the pay at smaller manufacturers is lower, salaries are still above the region's average of $17,204. At United Welding, which employs 100, workers who move into supervisory positions can make $30,000 or more.
To boost training of potential employees, manufacturers lend managers to Taylor Tech who shape curricula and serve as adjunct instructors. The firms also offer scholarships and paid internships to students and donate used equipment for classroom instruction. Buckeye Florida has donated between $70,000 to $80,000 a year in surplus equipment to Taylor Tech since 1988.
Barriers still remain for the potential employees. The biggest is transportation. Rural north Florida counties, for the most part, lack public transit, and many people have to commute long distances for the right jobs. Mike Deming, executive director of the North Florida Workforce Development Board, says his agency set up a transportation network as a pilot project to help get employees to larger companies. A van shuttles workers from Taylor, Jefferson and Madison counties to Goldkist in Live Oak in Suwannee County. The development board also contracts out for child-care, free to workers who meet federal poverty guidelines.
In the News
Cantonment -- Escambia County completed the purchase of a 352-acre tree farm for $1.9 million to house the new Central Commerce Park. Planners say the park can accommodate up to 2,000 workers and should be ready for its first tenant in about 12 months. The new park is considered necessary as county-owned Ellyson Industrial Park is sold out and Marcus Pointe Commerce Park has only 40 acres remaining.
Panama City -- The Panama City-Bay County International Airport Authority board unanimously approved a $2.4-million feasibility study that recommends moving the airport to another site -- most likely within a boundary marked by State Road 77, State Road 79, County Road 388 and State Road 20. Estimates for the relocation were pegged at $189 million, including construction and infrastructure improvements. The study will now go to the FAA's district office in Orlando for review.
Panhandle -- Two panhandle beaches were chosen among the "Top 20 beaches nationwide" by Florida International University Professor Stephen Leatherman, a k a Dr. Beach. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Panama City Beach was No. 2, and St. George Island State Park came in at No. 11. Leatherman's study measures 50 characteristics, including water quality, wave size and local amenities.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is making federal disaster loans available for small non-farm agriculture-dependent businesses in the six-county region. Disaster loans of up to $1.5 million are available to businesses in Escambia, Holmes, Jackson, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, which have been hurt by losses from drought and excessive heat.
Port St. Joe -- Scallop season has been a disappointment in the St. Joseph Bay this year. In previous seasons, visitors could reach their two-gallon limit with little effort, but this year boaters were lucky to get a dozen. The Florida Marine Research Institute says it's the worst crop since the agency began counting in 1994. Locals blame it on red tide.
Tallahassee -- Florida State University has reached an agreement with a private company, Weather Predict of Tallahassee, to bring its acclaimed weather-forecasting tool, the Superensemble, to market. The agreement explicitly excludes Superensemble's hurricane-prediction technology ["Partly Cloudy, Chance of Profits," July 2000, www.FloridaTrend.com], which FSU will make public when researchers have completed more testing.
The U.S. Navy has given FSU $10.9 million for its Center for Advanced Power Systems to begin research on how the Navy can convert to an all-electric fleet. FSU officials say the research on next-generation power systems could have a major impact on other modes of transportation.
Wakulla -- An increase in the amount of residential growth in Wakulla County has caused the tax rolls to jump $40 million, the largest increase to date.