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New workforce collaborative lands $1.5 million in grants


SARASOTA - Sherod Halliburton looked happy on Wednesday. Really happy.

Workforce Collaborative
Sherod Halliburton, executive director of the Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency, said he was very excited about the new collaborative.

A two-county team is launching a work force commitment toward health care training, and the Knight Foundation has committed $1 million to the effort. At an event at the Holiday Inn in Sarasota, the collaborative effort to help workers upgrade their skills and advance economically in the health care industry was announced.

Local organizations will be committing $500,000, and other organizations may put in money, too.

"This is a very important occasion for our region, for our city, for my particular CRA," said Halliburton, the executive director of the Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency.

It's been a yearlong effort, he said, gathering data from various sources. "We've been taking a really tough look at our workforce systems," he said. "We're doing some wonderful things in this region as far as our workforce is concerned, but I think we all know that any additional support that can be garnered is welcome."

Everyone has to work together in a collective, he said, including economic development centers, the public sector, the corporate sector and even employees. The hope is to bring all the stakeholders together and maximize their contributions and resources.

Other local organizations that are committing funds are:

  • Gulf Coast Community Foundation: $150,000 over the next three years.

  • Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency: $200,000 over the next five years.

  • Bradenton Downtown Development Agency: $200,000 over the next four years.

  • Manatee Community Action Agency: $20,000.

And Mary Helen Kress, president and CEO of Suncoast Workforce Board, said her organization got a $300,000 grant from Workforce Florida for health care education and training.

Quality of life

Mark Pritchett, vice president for community investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, said this will improve the quality of life for everyone in the community.

"We're dedicated to moving low-wage and low-income workers into higher-paying jobs, and we want to provide employers with skilled employees," he said. "We also want to make our region economically competitive."

Meredith Hector, assistant to the vice president and Bradenton program director of the John S. and James L Knight Foundation, said the region has been part of the foundation's funding priorities since 1974. Her announcement of the $1 million commitment was greeted with loud applause.

"The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is proud to be a part of this important work," she said.

The three reasons for the commitment, she said, are that the collaborative is industry-specific to areas that can produce good-paying jobs, it is long-term and it has the backing of a coalition of local groups.

"It could not succeed without the input and assets of a great deal of participants from a variety of sectors," Hector said. "This is an investment of opportunity, this is an investment of confidence."

Pritchett said his agency will run the process.

"We're also going to be the fiscal manager for this process, so when you do the granting process, the applications will come to the collaborative, and the foundation has a staff that knows how to vet out grant proposals," he said.

There will be some employers that will be the lead organization, and the employer may get the money, whereas usually it's a government or nonprofit organization. They're willing to think outside the box, though, he said.

Education and the nursing shortage

Melody Trimble, the CEO of Venice Regional Medical Center, said the effort will help her and her employees. And it hits home for her since her daughter, a single mother, works at the hospital and is struggling to survive and pay for education and training to upgrade her skills and qualify for higher-level jobs.

In fact, Trimble said, one of the biggest expenses student nurses face is paying for books, which can cost up to $600 per semester. That's impossible for someone making $10 an hour.

She said she recently saw a projection that the state could be short 52,000 nurses by 2012.

"We just talked about what the needs of health care are in our future," she said. "This collaborative alone would be worth everything."

Her hospital is known for quality care, Trimble said, but unless something is done about labor and skills, it won't be the same quality in 10 years.

"All I could think about is every worker in our hospital, if they are given the opportunity to better themselves in the passion that they love, which is health care, what could we do to change our health care delivery?" she said. "We're talking about low-income wage-earners."

It's easy to say just pay them more, Trimble said, but she needs educated workers with degrees and the ability to take good care of patients.

"I will help them go back to school, but our resources are limited, too," she said. "You have given them hope.

"It is manna from heaven."

More to be done

Pritchett said lessons from other collaboratives will guide which employers will be chosen for help. The different groups will come together and a decision will be made as a policy board, he said.

"The policy board will be composed of the investors in this project," Pritchett said.

After the formal event, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said it was exciting to see what's happening.

"It's particularly sweet for me. I've been a member of the Knight family since 1974, and knew both John and Jack Knight," he said. "They're really partners with us, we've worked very, very hard in the city, and one of the things we have to do, as government, is job creation."

Without a prepared workforce, you can't create jobs, Poston said. Also, his wife is a nurse and he worked on a nursing board that led to then-Manatee Community College getting $3 million for a nursing program.

"I think this is fabulous," said City Councilman Patrick Roff. "Once again, Manatee County and Sarasota are working together. We're the first people to do this in the entire southeast. Once again, we've pulled out something pretty amazing."

It will help people who are stuck in careers and can't get any retraining because of the cost. It's very difficult for an ordinary person, Roff said, to be able to start over again in middle age and find the money for school while paying bills.

"This is going to change people's lives," he said. "There's no doubt about it."

Halliburton could hardly hide his excitement at the new effort, which had been hinted at in past CCRA meetings.

"People from so many different sectors and areas working together in partnership," he said. "I just think it's a wonderful day for our region."

This will support people who want to advance their skills and get them off the sidelines, Halliburton said, and educational institutions seem to be more nimble and able to provide new offerings quickly. The financial support will help them meet the demand for training.

"We're still on the front end of this, and there a lot of that we'll have to figure out. There are a lot of questions we'll have to ask our peers, who are also national site," he said. "We're just open to learning and growing but our commitment is to provide the resources and the connectivity to the residents and businesses in this community."


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