County Commission agrees to consider $300,000 grant over three years to organization focused on workforce training in the community

Speakers and commissioners praise results of CareerEdge initiatives

Mireya Eavey is the leader of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative. Image from the CareerEdge website

First came abundant praise from two representatives of manufacturing companies in Sarasota County, plus a former county commissioner and current commissioners.

Then, on a motion by Commissioner Nancy Detert, seconded by Commissioner Michael Moran, the County Commission unanimously agreed to consider a $300,000 grant request from CareerEdge Funders Collaborative as the board addresses the county budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

CareerEdge requested that the funds be spread over three years.

Following the April 10 vote, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said staff would incorporate the CareerEdge grant into its budget work.

Before the vote, Detert talked of her desire for CareerEdge to provide details demonstrating why the county should give it taxpayer money.

Yet, Moran told Mireya Eavey, leader of CareerEdge and the chief workforce strategist for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, “I couldn’t give you higher praise.”
Moran has consistently voted against requests from companies for economic incentives since he was elected to the commission in November 2016. As he pointed out again on April 10, his goal is the creation of long-term jobs and careers with good salaries in the county. “I have been screaming from every rooftop I can on this,” he said.

Every Citizen Opinion Survey conducted for the county on an annual basis shows respondents saying one of most important means of helping the community grow is workforce training, Moran stressed.

“You have a very limited budget,” he told Eavey, but CareerEdge gets results.

A document Eavey provided county staff, dated July 3, 2018, says, “Since its inception, Career Edge Funders Collaborative has jointly invested with employers in Sarasota County to help them accelerate job growth while closing skills gaps and improving earnings for their incumbent workers.”

This section of the CareerEdge funding request provides details about how the county grant would be used. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The $300,000 request, spread over the county’s next three budget years, would go toward helping employers “accelerate job creation, as well as employee promotions and pay raises,” in specific high-growth industries: manufacturing, health care, construction, and transportation, distribution & logistics (TDL), the CareerEdge document explained.

With CareerEdge’s assistance in workforce training programs, the document pointed out, employers have created 1,369 new jobs over the past seven years. “Employers also transmit data to a third-party evaluator who monitors the number of trainings completed, credentials earned, and pay raises and promotions awarded to workers who participate,” the document noted.

Since its inception,” the document said, “the proposed model has generated outcomes that — in almost every case — meet or exceed pre-set targets. CareerEdge has trained 4,790 workers, who earned a total of 2,845 raises and 820 promotions,” it added, putting emphasis on the numbers.

CareerEdge has received a total of $400,000 in past grants from the county, a county staff memo noted.

Plenty of plaudits

Jennifer Behrens Schmidt addresses the County Commission in March 2016. News Leader photo

Among the speakers who addressed the commission in support of CareerEdge’s request, Jennifer Schmidt pointed out, “One of the hidden gems of Sarasota County is the thriving and diverse manufacturing sector. … This is a sector that ensures growth.”

She considers CareerEdge “one of the best and most effective workforce development organizations,” she added.

Schmidt is a past president of the Sarasota-Manatee Manufacturers Association. She is the owner of Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp. in Venice.

Her company has utilized CareerEdge’s internship training grants, Schmidt told the board. As a result, it has seen a 200% increase in jobs, and company revenue has climbed 200%. “These jobs pay an average of 35% above service sector jobs.”

Debbie LaPinska, senior vice president of human resources at PGT Innovations, told the commissioners that since 2015, PGT has trained more than 783 employees, with a retention rate of 76%. CareerEdge provided $161,000 to support those initiatives, she added.

As a result, LaPinska continued, turnover dropped from 42% in early 2018 to 35% this year at PGT. She called CareerEdge’s help “incredibly important to our growth. … I can’t speak enough praise for Mireya and what she’s done …”

Debbie LaPinska addresses the County Commission on April 10. News Leader image

In response to questions from Commissioner Detert, LaPinska said that starting employees at PGT with no experience earn $11 an hour. After attaining certification through CareerEdge training, LaPinska added, their pay goes up to $12 an hour in the first year. The average hourly wage for the company’s workers is $14.69, she noted.

Former County Commissioner Christine Robinson, executive director of the Argus Foundation in Sarasota, told the board, “Sustainable jobs are integral to our economy … There is no bigger economic development need than workforce training today,” she added, as that keeps companies in the community and leads to higher wages for employees.

“We have a known quantity that can deliver results in CareerEdge.”

More examples of success

Robinson was on the board — as was now-Chair Charles Hines — when the commission several years ago agreed to collaborate with the Sarasota County School Board and CareerEdge in establishing a Precision Machining Program at what is now Suncoast Technical College (STC) in Sarasota.

“That was a stunning success,” Commissioner Alan Maio pointed out.

Ron Dipillo, executive director of the college, explained to the commissioners on April 10 that CareerEdge serves as what he called “a gap filler.” When businesses and industries make it clear they have demand for workers that is not being met, Dipillo pointed out, CareerEdge steps in to help set up programs to fill the needs. “They’re much more flexible than any large organization.”

“Without CareerEdge,” he added, “we wouldn’t have these innovative ideas that are attracting national attention.”

Earlier, Eavey told the board that, just that week, a representative of Toyota expressed significant interest in the automotive technology program at STC, which CareerEdge helped establish in March 2018.

She explained that auto dealers in the community came to CareerEdge a couple of years ago because of their great need for auto technicians. Each dealership loses about $200,000 a year, Eavey said, for every open bay for which it has no technician.

These are CareerEdge highlights listed in a July 2018 document provided to the County Commission. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Many of the people interested in participating in the training could not afford to be out of work for the 15 to 16 months of the program, she continued. Therefore, dealerships hire people first and then the new employees “go to school at night …” Their starting pay is $12 an hour, she added; following their completion of the training, their pay raises to $13 an hour.

More than a year later, Eavey continued, those former students are making $16 and $17 an hour, and they are coming back to STC to pursue more training. “The employers are investing in them.”

Having expertise with the automotive industry, Commissioner Christian Ziegler told Eavey, “You’re filling a demand that’s there.”

Early this month, Eavey also noted, the Sarasota City Commission agreed to help pay for a program in Newtown that will train people in HVAC maintenance (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).

Commissioner Willie Shaw proposed the initiative to Robinson of the Argus Foundation, who contacted CareerEdge and began pursing the necessary research to make the idea a reality, Robinson told the city commissioners on April 1.

Businesses are contributing financial support to that project, too, Eavey explained to the County Commission.