Work force agency discusses what to do with surge of money


Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 1:46 a.m.

The work force agency charged with putting local people to work will have $2.5 million to $5 million extra in one-time funding over the next two years, and its board was long on ideas Monday about how to use that money to help the local economy and put more people to work.

Among the solutions discussed were training for high-demand industries, a one-stop inventory of local resources such as available training space and more involvement in the political process at all levels of government.

The board of FloridaWorks and guests met Monday to start planning its priorities and course of action for the coming year.

Executive Director Angela Pate said the agency is expecting a shot in the arm over the next two years from its share of $2 billion in federal work force funds as part of stimulus spending, but that is after years of funding cuts.

Guest speaker Bob Rohrlack Jr. said state legislators have cut economic development funding designed to create jobs, including reducing or eliminating programs that fund tax breaks and grants. Rohrlack is senior vice president of business recruitment and retention for Enterprise Florida Inc., the state's official economic development partnership with businesses, which faced its second 4 percent cut in the recent special session on the state budget and is bracing for more cuts next fiscal year.

Despite the cuts, he highlighted some of the state programs available to help local businesses, such as the Quick Action Closing Fund, which provides cash up front to help place a new business, the Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern that provides incentives to locate in areas such as Bradford County and other tax rebates, road funds and building grants.

With all its economic development tools, he said Florida needs to do more for new startup businesses.

Frank McGeown, owner of Star Import Service and last year's board chairman, said economic stimulus funding should go to small businesses.

"If this stimulus continues to go towards the large companies, it's doomed to failure because these people are wasting money left and right," he said. "We generate 75 percent of the jobs in this country."

Officials from the state Department of Corrections re-entry program emphasized the need to put released prisoners to work before they commit new crimes and go back to jail.

Franchatta Barber, assistant secretary of re-entry, said of nearly 100,000 current prisoners, 88 percent will be released.

"They need something to do," she said.

The problem for prisoners and other job seekers is that people with education are now getting jobs that used to go to those without education, Pate said. She emphasized that people who can't find work should spend their time getting more education.

"Go into training, learn a skill and stop being a victim," she said.

Dug Jones, assistant vice president for the Center of Innovation and Economic Development at Santa Fe College, said job training needs to target high-demand fields such as health care and life sciences, environmentally friendly construction and information technology.

Training also needs to target underserved groups such as those ages 16-25, 50 and older and ex-offenders, he said.

Board member Tommy McIntosh, a real estate agent, said the board needs to get involved in Alachua County's growth planning process to help overcome regulatory obstacles to opening new businesses.

Christina Jaynes, FloridaWorks food stamp and welfare program manager, emphasized the need for stopgap funding to help people waiting for unemployment before they lose their homes.

Contact Anthony Clark at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or 352-374-5094.

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