Ready for work Careers program gives local job-seekers an edge

Ready for work – Careers program gives local job-seekers an edge
By SCOTT LOCKWOOD, STAFF WRITER

NORTH PORT — North Port resident Carlo Gambino has always dreamed of having a job in the video game industry. Now, thanks to the CareerEdge Bridges to Careers program that just wrapped up its first class in North Port, he is one step closer to that opportunity.
“This program has helped me with speaking and interview skills,” Gambino, 18, said after the class’ graduation ceremony Friday at the Goodwill in the Shoppes of North Port plaza, which played host to the program, in partnership with CareerEdge. “Before, I was really withdrawn, especially from people I didn’t know. Now I am little bit more open and I can speak a little better — especially in front of people.”
CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey said the program’s 14 students have spent the last six weeks working on computer skills, résumé writing, practicing the job interview process and networking. They worked with instructors from State College of Florida and took a tour of the Tervis Tumbler plant in Venice.
“We put this program together to help the unemployed people get those basic skills that employers are saying they need,” Eavey
said. “Digital literacy is very important, and they learned the computer skills that they need for the work. The specific purpose was to give them an edge from the employers’ perspective. They tell us what they’re looking for and what applicants aren’t coming in with, and we develop our program around that.” Gambino said he would be happy just to find an entry-level job right now, although he would like to work in information technology, with the hopes it would lead him into the video game industry.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s designing, programming or even marketing,” Gambino said. “Just as long as it’s with video games, I think I could be really happy with my life.” Participants in the program — which is free to those enrolled — ranged in age from 18 to their 50s. One of the graduates, 53-year-old Nokomis resident Debbie Sabatino, who used to live in North Port, thought she may have been too old to do something like the Bridges to Careers program. Fast-forward six weeks, and now she is on a path to landing a job as a certified nursing assistant. She said she was on her way to a job interview immediately after Friday’s ceremony.
“I was on the verge of giving up,” said Sabatino, who formerly worked as a security guard. “I had been reading up on books to help with my self-esteem, so therefore I thought this program would help me. We focused on us and what we needed to work on.
“Things aren’t bad to keep in the past because you can always look at them and ask where you can improve and go forward from. This class gave me more self-esteem — and I didn’t give up on me.”
Others, such as 47-yearold North Port resident Jeff Klinebriel, were able to use the program as a learning tool to get back into or even advance in their field. He spent several years as a parts adviser in auto dealerships and has driven a truck for a beer distributor.
He hoped to use skills learned in the program to return to the auto industry. “I got something out of every little segment of this program — the speakers, the mentors, the training and the computer stuff — which I was pretty ignorant at,” he said. “As a whole, it’s helped me out a lot in the three job interviews I’ve already had.”
As they received their completion certificates, the graduates gave short speeches about the class. One graduate, Pamela Miller,
delivered her speech via PowerPoint presentation — something she learned in the class. Graduate Cheryl Rodriguez of North Port said she was going to put a social media site together so classmates could stay in touch, share experiences in their job searches and keep learning.
Eavey said she will meet with Goodwill officials within the next week to discuss the continuation of the class, and hopes it’s something that Goodwill will be able to take on in a more permanent role in the future. She said a similar CareerEdge program in Bradenton has been highly successful, with several of the graduates finding employment after finishing the program.
Microsoft Unlimited Potential and Bank of America granted CareerEdge with the funding that made Bridges to Careers possible.

Matching Employer’s Needs with Workers Skills

LAKEWOOD RANCH – More than two-thirds of the region’s manufacturers say a major gap exists between the skills they need and those most area job applicants possess, according to a new study by CareerEdge Funders Collaborative.

CareerEdge, a nonprofit agency that is working to bridge that skills gap, surveyed more than 100 manufacturers and held focus groups to refine the results.

Working with manufacturing employers, school systems and governments in Sarasota and Manatee counties, CareerEdge wants schools to teach more usable skills. At the same time, the group hopes area manufacturers will commit to hiring graduates from improved educational programs.

The survey concluded that classes in which students learn to weld and run digitally controlled milling machines are critically needed, said Mireya Eavey, CareerEdge’s executive director.

Next week, Eavey hopes to take commitments from manufacturers to hire apprentices from Sarasota County Technical Institute classes to a Sarasota County Commission meeting.

“They want to see the number of individuals who will be hired,” Eavey said.

The skills gap is hardly a local issue, but it is more of a problem in this region because no single industry dominates the area. Instead, a large number of small, specialized operations discourages the development of centralized training programs, CareerEdge found.

Another problem, and one more addressable, is that high school graduates seem to lack even the most basic math skills, according to one panelist at a CareerEdge presentation of the survey results in Lakewood Ranch.

“We are constantly looking for people,” said Michael Havey, a manager at Teakdecking Systems, based in Manatee County.

His company, which employs 125 people at an average wage of $15 an hour, makes and installs custom-fitted teak decks for cruise ships and yachts.

Many of his workers earn considerable overtime, and traveling installers can make $50,000 to $75,000 annually, he said.

As part of its job interview, the company asks applicants to take what he describes as a fifth-grade math test involving simple geometry, addition, subtraction, multiplication and percentages.

Havey estimates that only one out of 25 job applicants gets all the problems correct.

Marine trim carpenters, welders, machinists, lab technicians, operators of lathes and other machines, assemblers and quality-control technicians were listed as the skilled positions employers most desire.

Representatives of Manatee Technical Institute and SCTI said they are eager to help.

“Our question is, will you hire the new folks?” Dr. Todd Bowden, director of SCTI, asked. “The last thing I want to do is put out 30 machinists a year — and find out the market is for 15.”

In a new building now being completed at SCTI, Bowden is proposing spending about $1 million over the next five years to establish a course in digital machining and milling. If funded, he could graduate a class of entry-level machinists by the fall of 2014, he said.

“And then, if you had a machine shop, you certainly would utilize it for a wide range of other training,” he added. “You could have a very robust continuing workforce training for those already in manufacturing.”

West Central Florida facing a Skills Gap crisis

A report in the Bradenton Herald echoes the article in this month’s Plant Engineering magazine on the severity of the Skills Gap issue in manufacturing. Manufacturers in west central Florida are finding the lack of a skilled work force is driving potential manufacturing growth away and harming their ability to improve production.

CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, an employment training agency in the region, told the Bradenton Herald that 56% of manufacturers find a Skills Gap of more than three years. The paper said this has forced manufacturers in the area to back off expansion plans.

“We’re talking about a lot of jobs,” CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey told the paper. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of marketing to do. This is a call to manufacturers that we understand their challenge. Now we need their commitment.”

The paper reports that despite an unemployment rate of 9.3% in the region and more than 28,000 unemployed workers, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the open positions in manufacturing.

“Part of it is the industry has done a bad job of marketing itself as a career path, with parents discouraging their children to seek opportunities,” Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of Atlantic Mold and Machining Corp., told the paper. “Most of the workers in the field are getting old, they’re close to retirement, and there’s no replacements lined up.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at this and say we need more manufacturing jobs,” said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. “And the trend will only continue.”

Region poised to create jobs, study concludes

The Sarasota-Manatee economy is better positioned to create jobs in the coming years than three-quarters of the 100 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas, a new study concludes.

But the region’s recovery will essentially return Southwest Florida to an economy reliant on retirees, construction and tourism, the new Brookings Institution analysis predicts.

It is a prognosis that, while welcome in the broadest sense, does not meet the goals of economic development groups, who have sought to diversify the region away from those boom-and-bust sectors.

At least one of those economic pillars — tourism — already has rebounded strongly, setting records for both hotel occupancy and visitor spending in 2012, and prompting some officials already to fear complacency could set in.

“Just because the restaurants and hotels have hired doesn’t mean we’ve solved our real fundamental economic development issues,” said Mark Huey, chief executive of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.

Bright spots for the area’s future largely revolve around health care and manufacturing, sectors whose needs both local employers and educators say they are working to meet. Housing also could fuel further recovery when it returns to full strength, the Brookings study found.

Jonathan Rothwell, who wrote the study, found that some markets, such as Tampa’s, suffer from an education gap, meaning the average job opening in the Tampa area calls for more education than the average resident has.

Rothwell found the opposite was true in Sarasota and Manatee, where workers were generally overqualified for many available jobs — though more employers are demanding college or other advanced degrees in hiring.

But the Brookings’ study also contained some ominous details that could have long-ranging repercussions for the region. Most notably, the Sarasota-Manatee economy has the second-highest unemployment rate for college graduates among the 100 metro areas studied.

Experts say the area’s best shot at a significant job expansion is in health care, which dramatically outpaced hiring statewide throughout the Great Recession. It is an industry that maintained a top spot among growing sectors, the result of aging populations and technological improvements.

Brookings noted the largest number of job openings by far in Sarasota and Manatee counties are for “Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners.”

In January and February, there were 2,645 online job ads for those kind of workers, more than three times the next most in-demand job, which was retail sales.

“In health care, I do believe we are in a good position to create jobs,” said Mireya Eavey, whose Bradenton-based CareerEdge group seeks to bring together employers, schools and workers. “In health care, the educational institutions are listening and working with the health care employers to put the needed programs in place to meet the demands of the employers.”

Eavey also sees the same kind of meeting of the minds in manufacturing. CareerEdge is preparing to publish its own survey about the education gap in that field, based on interviews with 125 employers.

A stronger recovery?

Rothwell, the study author, points to two findings that tell him the Sarasota-Manatee economy is positioned to recover at a faster pace than most other U.S. cities.

Referring to the region by its official U.S. Census name — North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota — Rothwell notes that the local metro has a high concentration of jobs in industries that are growing the fastest.

“There are some industries prevalent in North Port that have been doing well the last few years — health, ambulatory services and residential care facilities,” he said.

Rothwell’s study ranks the local economy 23rd when it comes to its prospects for job growth during the economic recovery, which officially began in late 2009.

He also points out that the area suffered the sixth biggest drop in home prices out of the 100 U.S. cities studied.

That loss in home value and associated wealth, together with consumer purchasing power, represents one of the major reasons Southwest Florida saw a much bigger spike in unemployment than the rest of the country.

Rothwell said a sustained recovery in home prices will go a long way toward restoring jobs in the region.

Roughly one in seven jobs regionally is tied to residential real estate, according to economic development officials’ data.

The Brookings study also found that the Sarasota and Manatee economy has a high unemployment rate — 16.6 percent — among those with a high school degree or less education, the 13th highest rate among the 100 cities in the study.

That explains why, in part, the focus of Southwest Florida’s recovery has seemingly been on reversing high unemployment rates among those who are less educated.

But at 7.6 percent, Sarasota-Manatee has the second highest unemployment rate for college graduates in the study. Only Stockton, Calif., which has one of the highest overall unemployment rates in the country, is higher.

Overall, the region’s unemployment stood at 9.3 percent in July, the most recent data available, after falling to 8.4 percent in May.

Looking for workers with college degree

Though the two-county economy has one of the lowest levels of demand nationally for workers with college degrees, that percentage has been climbing.

This year, just 33 percent of the job openings required a worker with a bachelor’s degree or higher, six percentage points below the average for the 100 largest U.S. cities.

Still, demand for college graduates was higher in Sarasota and Manatee than it was in 2010, when only 25 percent of job postings required a degree, the Brookings report stated.

“I think, in part, the economy is playing a role, in that businesses have more applicants than they can handle,” said Sally Hill, a spokeswoman for the Suncoast Workforce Board, a non-profit that runs three employment centers in the region.

“Due to that, they are being more selective in who they hire,” Hill said. “And in some cases the employers are requiring a degree in positions where maybe two, three years ago they didn’t have that requirement.”

Employers, too, often look for specific combinations of credentials and experience in hiring, while Brookings’ study was limited to number of collegiate hours.

“I’m in the middle of a search right now for Intertape, and the final two candidates are both from outside this area,” said Charlie Fridley, president of Beneva Group of Sarasota, a recruiter specializing in manufacturing.

“There are not people in this area who have the previous experience, and the educational level, to fill that role,” Fridley said.

“Clients are just getting very specific about what they are looking for,” said Jamie Conley, regional vice president at Robert Half International, who is in charge of recruiting from Marco Island through Tampa and east to Lakeland.

“They are looking for degrees, they are looking for licenses, and those people are hard to find,” Conley said. “They are looking for pedigrees as well — where did you get your bachelor’s, your master’s degree.”

CareerEdge gets OK for funding to help workers

CareerEdge gets OK for funding to help workers
By SCOTT LOCKWOOD, North Port Sun

SARASOTA COUNTY — County commissioners found a way this week to give an extra $100,000 to an area organization that specializes in training and growing the local workforce. In July 2010, CareerEdge, a nonprofit that works to get a skilled training force and accelerate job creation, was awarded an economic-development… incentive grant of $200,000 from the county’s Economic Incentive Fund, to be paid in installments over a four-year period. So far, the nonprofit had received $100,000. In May, CareerEdge had asked that the commission increase its annual investment over the next two years from $50,000 to $100,000, which would allow the organization to expand its work with Sarasota County employees and employers. Now eligible for its third installment, CareerEdge requested this week an additional $50,000 in conjunction with the payment, for a total of $100,000.
However, a resolution recently adopted by the commission states the incentive fund should be utilized for only private businesses, making nonprofit organizations — like CareerEdge — now ineligible for assistance from the fund. Commissioners debated briefly about using funds from the Economic Incentive Fund anyway, but decided to grant CareerEdge’s $100,000 request using remaining funds from the county’s tax-delinquent lot fund.
“One of the reasons we’ve asked for an increase in funding is we have a lot to do in the area of manufacturing,” CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey said at Wednesday’s commission meeting. “A lot of our employers say they have the vacancies but cannot find skilled workers. We want to put more money into apprenticeship-type programs, because it is hard for manufacturers to hire people right out of school without some of these skills. Without this, we don’t have the skilled workforce incentives, and companies will not come here; they’re not going to stay here and they’re not going to grow.” When CareerEdge started in 2010, its goal was to work with 300 people and 10 employers. Through the first quarter of this year alone they had worked with more than 1,500 people and 14 employers. In a presentation of an impact-analysis study to the commission, data showed that CareerEdge helped 284 people get jobs and secure raises for 589 workers in Sarasota County that increased their annual income by a combined $1.5 million. The group also helps with tuition expenses of employees who cannot take advantage of tuition-reimbursement programs through employers. This is part of CareerEdge’s Bridges to Career program, which will be part of a pilot program coming this fall to the North Port Goodwill store in the Shoppes of North Port plaza. “Microsoft Elevate America and Bank of America invested in our Bridges to Careers program for the
underemployed and unemployed individual who needs basic job readiness and technical skills to enter the workplace,” Eavey said. “We are working with employers in North Port who are willing hire these individuals after the training if they meet their organizational requirements.”

 

CareerEdge makes gains in workforce development – Knight Foundation

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.”

CareerEdge makes gains in workforce development – Florida Trend

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.

Career Numbers

$1.54 million
CareerEdge spending on training during 2011 and the first quarter of 2012

2,568
workers trained in the Manatee-Sarasota region during that time

$8.59 million
total annual wage increases for CareerEdge-trained workers

Source: Urban Market Ventures

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.”

Analysis shows CareerEdge works

An independent analysis of the CareerEdge Funders Collaborative found the nonprofit workforce-development program is producing millions of dollars in new wages and economic impact for the Manatee-Sarasota region.

Conducted by Urban Market Ventures, with data review by Capital Analytics, the analysis found that $1.54 million in investments by CareerEdge in 2011 and so far in 2012 will result in nearly $3 million in annual earnings increases for employees at local businesses and more than $5.6 million in annual wages for people placed in new jobs.

The investments also pump nearly $4.3 million in new, “value added” income into the local economy.

On an individual basis, the analysis showed that 883 employees who participated in CareerEdge training programs will increase their household income by $3,376 a year.

“Each year’s investment requires about four years to bear full fruit, in terms of the pay raises and promotions that workers will earn by completing CareerEdge programs,” said Mireya Eavey, executive director of CareerEdge. “So we will see an even larger share of the impact in years two, three and four for each worker.”

Wilde Honda gets President’s Award

Wilde Honda, of Sarasota, received the Honda President’s Award given to top-ranking U.S. dealerships, based on customer service and satisfaction, sales, training and facility operation.

This is the 10th year Wilde received the honor, the company said.

Of the more than 1,000 Honda dealerships in the United States, “Wilde Honda is one of only 145 to earn this distinction for 2011,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of automobile sales for Honda.

Island Real Estate work recognized

Island Real Estate of Anna Maria Island Inc. received the Award of Excellence from TripAdvisor and FlipKey, according to the company.

The award is based on reviews from past guests and recognizes rental managers “with outstanding perperties who provide excellent service,” the company said.

First Watch opens 2nd in Wisconsin

First Watch, the Lakewood Ranch-based breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant chain, opened its second restaurant in Wisconsin.

The franchisee there, VMB Sunrise Hospitality Inc., already had one First Watch and plans a total of five in the next three to five years, the company said in a statement.

Manufacturers have chance to order up ideal employees

In August, Carl Langdon will celebrate 50 years working for the same business. He has a high school diploma, trade education in tool and die work, professional training in engineering design and was largely self-taught in much of the technology at KHS Bartelt USA.

Langdon was hired in 1962 as an electrician, wiring packaging machines for a company that ultimately became KHS Bartelt. Over the decades, he has also worked as draftsman, electrical engineer, design engineer, electrical- engineering manager, control-systems manager and mechanical engineer.

Today, Langdon is lead mechanical engineer and has helped create much of the technological innovation in packaging machinery KHS sells worldwide.

The company designs and builds high-tech packaging machines at its plant on U.S. 301 in Sarasota. Using KHS Bartelt machines, companies package thousands of consumer products, including most of the beef jerky made in the United States. The average pouch-packaging machine KHS Bartelt makes has a $600,000 price tag.

“Carl represents the type of employee that American manufacturing needs to be globally competitive,” said Mary Mercurio, human resources director for KHS USA, which is part of the German-owned, 4,500-employee KHS GmbH. “Carl walked in the door with technical aptitude and some skills, but he was dedicated to learning more, demonstrated initiative and drive, and applied his talents to innovating technology that gives our business a competitive advantage.

“American manufacturing needs all the Carl Langdons we can find. I have to import a lot of the skills we need. The qualified, technically experienced employees we need are difficult to find locally.”

KHS, with 125 employees in Sarasota, is not alone. Manufacturers across the region have said for years that there is a gap between their need for technical workers and the skill sets of local job candidates.

In defense of local training and educational institutions, employers have not always been effective in communicating their needs or in uniting to create a critical mass of demand that allows institutions to invest in curriculum or equipment.

Over the years, the Sarasota Manatee Area Manufacturers Association and Suncoast Workforce — the regional arm of the state’s employment, recruiting and training agency — have worked more closely with economic-development organizations and employers to identify needs and opportunities. Local institutions such as State College of Florida, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Sarasota County Technical Institute and Manatee Technical Institute are at the table to help design solutions.

And now, manufacturers have an ideal opportunity to express their specific needs through a survey sponsored by CareerEdge, the regional funders collaborative developing the workforce of the future.

Through survey responses from manufacturers in Sarasota and Manatee counties, CareerEdge will identify whether appropriate training exists and, if not, how training partners can help manufacturers develop the skilled workers they need for their companies to grow. The survey will close out soon, so manufacturers that want to be heard on this vital topic should visit CareerEdgeFunders.org to participate.

Why should the community care? Parents want their children to have local career opportunities that pay well. Positions in manufacturing fit that bill, with the annual wage averaging $43,202, according to government figures. That’s 15 percent higher than the Sarasota County average of $37,562. The year-round payroll of manufacturers provides a substantial boost to the local economy, supporting the local tax base, retailers, the arts, charities and education.

In the Sarasota-Manatee area, packaging-related businesses alone account for hundreds of jobs and millions in annual payroll. KHS Bartelt is credited with giving birth to the region’s packaging industry when it arrived from Illinois in 1977. Since then, the business has spawned new local firms as experienced employees launched their own entrepreneurial ventures.

In addition, manufacturers tend to sell their products outside the local market, bringing new wealth into the community. They make substantial capital investments in equipment and facilities that also contribute to the tax base.

As a region, we should work together to develop more Carl Langdons. It’s good for the economy and our community.

Rise of manufacturing bodes well for Manatee County

Friday’s unemployment report underscores the rising star of Manatee County’s economic development – manufacturing. With a 3.1 percent growth rate in that sector of the job market, Manatee topped the overall statewide number.

That growth should continue with the ongoing success of the Manatee Economic Development Corp., which so far this year helped five manufacturers either locate or expand in the county. Over the past three years, more than half of the 52 EDC-assisted relocations and expansions featured manufacturing-related jobs.

While Manatee’s jobless figure plunged to 8 percent in April from 8.7 percent in March, the news is tempered by the number of people who dropped out of the workforce — almost 2,000 here. While economists can only speculate about the reasons, one study indicates that a majority are retiring baby boomers.

Manatee bested both Sarasota (8.6 percent) and Florida (8.7 percent) in the unemployment report.

While the tourism industry enjoys an outstanding surge, with Manatee shattering visitation records last year and on pace for another big year, the expansion of manufacturing will diversify the local economy.

And provide higher-paying jobs. The average wage locally stands at $50,319 annually, significantly higher than the county’s overall average pay of $34,556. The EDC’s focus on manufacturing is readily apparent.

The recession took a heavy toll on Southwest Florida’s manufacturing sector, but the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area is rebounding twice as fast as the national average. High-tech production is the primary driver here.

One of the biggest stars on the manufacturing stage is Sun Hydraulics, undertaking a $16 million expansion with a new 78,000-square-foot plant expected to open next summer and yield 361 new jobs over the next five years.

This follows improvements to existing facilities last year, and continues the company’s phenomenal growth rate over the past four decades — averaging 20 percent annually.

Sharon Hillstrom, EDC president and chief executive, outlined a curious challenge for the region’s manufacturers — the shortage of skilled employees.

In her Herald column on Monday, she pointed out that CareerEdge is a key workforce development resource that is leading a collaborative effort to solve this dilemma.

CareerEdge boosts current employees up the wage scale by paying for training and certification. This year, the nonprofit organization is focusing on manufacturing to help companies close the technical skills gap.

Other career options abound, and the EDC is trying to recruit students to pursue manufacturing. Training programs at Manatee Technical Institute and State College of Florida will provide the skills necessary for a good job in the industry.

With the economy still struggling and unemployment still too high, it’s a wonder that more people are not taking advantage of these golden opportunities. With continued growth in this dynamic sector of the economy, the opportunities will only expand.

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/2012/05/23/4048897/rise-of-manufacturing-bodes-well.html#storylink=cpy