FloridaWorks awarded grant for technical jobs

The $5 million will fund on-the-job training in health care and biomanufacturing

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 3:18 p.m.

FloridaWorks has received a $5 million grant — the agency's largest ever — to help create jobs for the unemployed in technical fields and to expand bioscience companies for four years.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Labor will fund on-the-job training in health care and biomanufacturing businesses that promise to keep the employees once their training is complete.

Angela Pate, executive director of Florida Works, said she expects the grant to fund at least 264 jobs.

The program is open to businesses in the Alachua-Bradford workforce region.

The grant application included health care and biomanufacturing because they are growing fields included in the Innovation Gainesville economic development efforts, Pate said.

"We're looking at it as a job creation effort and an expansion effort for our businesses," she said.

Pate said the area's many hospitals, growing and established biotech and medical device companies, and medical information technology companies are among those that could benefit from the grant.

The grant is funded by fees to employers that hire foreign workers through the H-1B visa program for temporary jobs in specialty occupations. Those workers would include scientists, engineers or computer programmers. The grant is designed to train U.S. citizens for the jobs now filled by the foreign workers.

Congress has capped the number of H-1B visas per year at 65,000, plus another 20,000 for workers with advanced degrees. Applications for 2012 have reached the maximum, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

FloridaWorks is in the process of designing the program and drafting contracts. It will convene an expert task force to score applications.

The grant pays between 50 percent and 90 percent of an employee's salary while they are in training, with the highest amounts for the smallest companies. Employers will be able to apply for the program at the end of the month at floridaworksonline.com.

The $5 million grant is nearly equal to the agency's budget to run its one-stop career centers and services in Alachua and Bradford counties, Pate said.

Anthony Clark is a Gainesville Sun business editor.

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