In 2009, with unemployment in the Manatee-Sarasota region climbing toward 13%, Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave $1 million toward creating a privately funded workforce-development agency called CareerEdge.
The idea was to see if a privately funded agency, unencumbered by state or federal bureaucracies, could have an impact on both the supply and demand sides of the labor market.
The two-pronged effort is starting to get results. On the supply side, the agency in 2011 helped 284 job seekers find jobs paying an average of $9.63 an hour. Of the 284, 139 had been unemployed for up to two years. Maria Alvarado of Bradenton credits CareerEdge with giving her and her children “a whole new life.” After a divorce, she lost her lawn service business and struggled to find work to support her five sons. She enrolled in a job-training program funded by CareerEdge and, after finishing the six-month course, landed a full-time job as a line operator at Berry Plastics in Sarasota.
On the demand side, the non-profit — funded by local businesses, foundation grants and charitable support — is playing an economic development role. When it appeared, for example, that Sarasota County’s offer of $400,000 in incentives might not be enough to keep a Health Management Associates central business office in Venice, CareerEdge sweetened the pot with an offer of $100,000 worth of job training for Health Management employees. The package ultimately helped preserve 148 jobs in the county with the company promising to add 217 more over the next two years.
CareerEdge also funds training programs for companies looking to grow. It helped Blake Medical Center in Bradenton retrain existing workers when the hospital expanded its trauma center last year. It also helped Tervis Tumbler in Venice develop a career ladder development program for existing employees and create a job-readiness program for new ones.
“Workforce is our focus,” says Mireya Eavey, CareerEdge’s executive director, “but it’s economic development that drives the jobs.”