Bradenton business investment into CareerEdge is paying off

BRADENTON — It may not be easy to find a common thread that ties a capital-driven group of businesses and a socially driven community organization together — except when the shared interest is the success of long-term investments.

Even the definition of investment may differ between an organization like the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority and CareerEdge, a nonprofit organization that provides employment skills to untrained workers. But the DDA’s $200,000 investment hopes over the past four years in CareerEdge and the nonprofit’s goals are the same.

Investment for all is in the local workforce and it’s paying off in a big way, according to Mireya Eavey, executive director of CareerEdge.

Eavey was the executive director when the organization was founded in 2010 to serve Manatee and Sarasota counties under the umbrella of the national Workforce Solutions program. Eavey left the organization for a short time, but returned with good news for the DDA in her first annual report since resuming her role.

“When CareerEdge first began 3 1/2 years ago, I realize DDA took a gamble, not knowing if the program would work,” said Eavey. “I’m here to say ‘Thank you.’ You took a chance and it paid off.”

Eavey presented the organization’s annual progress report to the DDA board of directors Tuesday at city hall.

David Gustafson, DDA executive director, reintroduced Eavey to the board, saying her tenacity in helping people improve their lives is unmatched.

“She really makes a difference in the community and she certainly changes people’s lives,” said Gustafson.

Eavey said when CareerEdge first began in 2010, the three-year goal was to train 300 people for skilled employment positions. They’ve done a little better than those original goals.

“We have since served 2,123 people who have earned 4,984 different types of certificates to become eligible for specific employment opportunities by taking 7,189 classes,” she said.

So what does mean to business and the local economy?

It means a steady stream of trained workers who have gone from either low-wage jobs or being unemployed, to putting more than $5.6 million in wages earned back into the community.

Eavey said those investments have been key to the ongoing, award-winning success of the agency, but CareerEdge would never exist without the initial $1 million investment from the Knight Foundation.

“From there, the CCRA came on board and then the DDA,” said Eavey. “We also are the only organization of our kind housed by the city government and that has been the kind of great support we have had from the city and Mayor Wayne Poston.”

Vernon DeSear, DDA board chair, said it’s been a good collaboration and a positive for the community.

“Most important to us is that we see the results in creating a better work ethic,” he said. “People who participate in this program are clearly more engaged in their jobs.”

Gustafson agreed and said there has to be measurable successes to determine whether an investment has worked. In the case of CareerEdge, Gustafson said it was clear the DDA investment is paying off in skilled workers and an increase to the local economy.

“But there is an emotional side to this, as well, to get to see people succeed,” he said.

When an entity like CCRA or DDA invests, Eavey said, the money must go to training workers for businesses within those districts. She cited Manatee County Memorial Hospital as an example of benefitting from CareerEdge training health care workers.

“That kind of effort will continue,” she said. “But the goals of the future are to move low-wage employees into higher paid jobs and create system-change partnerships with businesses and community-based organizations.

Also, we want to expand our Bridges to Career program, which educates potential employees in how to interview and present themselves to a potential employer.”

And if Eavey is correct, there may be more employers available in specific markets soon.

“Transportation and logistics are the fastest-growing industry sectors in the county right now,” said Eavey. “That’s what we are looking at next in investing.”

$150,000 Awarded to Train 217 Workers in Needed Skills

The biggest of those grants went to Air Products and Chemicals, which is gearing up to make giant liquid natural gas conversion devices in Manatee County, near Port Manatee.

CareerEdge also made grants to four other existing manufacturers in the region: Radiant Power, Mustang Vacuum Systems, Eaton Aerospace and KHS.

The grants, the nonprofit noted, will train 217 workers and save 110 jobs in Southwest Florida.

Pennsylvania-based Air Products plans an eventual payroll of 250 or more in Manatee County — with an average wage above the county’s median — and has begun hiring welders and other skilled workers.

CareerEdge joined the worker recruitment effort, in conjunction with the Manatee Technical Institute and the Suncoast Workforce Board, to provide the skills necessary to ensure Air Products’ successful move to the region.

“One of Air Products’ main concerns was whether we would have the talent pool necessary to grow the business if we relocated to Manatee,” said Bill Jurena, plant manager for Air Products’ new facility.

“We were able to get assistance with access and funding for the necessary training resources to begin developing the welding skills necessary to meet our needs.”

CareerEdge’s grant to Air Products covers training for 110 welders and 20 manufacturing technicians.

“This is an example of collaboration at its best,” said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation.

Grant recipient Mustang Vacuum makes highly specialized machinery that can put shiny chrome coatings on plastic parts.

“For over four years, Mustang Vacuum has struggled to get the necessary training to expand our highly specialized production,” said Brent McGary, purchasing and inventory manager at the company.

The grant from CareerEdge “has been the catalyst” for Mustang to develop long-delayed training programs essential to its growth, he said.

CareerEdge this month launched the Manufacturing Workforce Collaborative, a group whose mission is to help keep track of the skills that the region’s manufacturers need.

The group also plans to communicate with workers about what training may be required for specific jobs and help them obtain those positions.

Already, Sarasota County Technical Institute has used a CareerEdge study to identify a countywide need for machinists. It also used CareerEdge data to lobby Sarasota County officials to fund new classes.

“The current misperception about manufacturing is that it is repetitive, dirty and lacking in real opportunity,” said Nathalie deWolf, executive director of CareerEdge. “The reality couldn’t be further from that.”

CareerEdge to receive National Attention

CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, a Bradenton-based group formed to bring workers and employers together, has received an economic development award for its efforts.

The International Economic Development Council will give CareerEdge its Human Capital Program Award to recognize the group’s work in workforce development. CareerEdge will be given the award during the council’s annual conference, scheduled for October in Philadelphia.

CareerEdge works to identify employers’ needs and then channel funding to improve regional workers’ skills to meet those needs.

As workers become better trained and more skilled, CareerEdge believes, they will be qualified for promotion, creating openings for entry-level workers.

In the last three years, CareerEdge has focused particularly on finding and training health care workers and identifying skill gaps in manufacturing.

“We are delighted to accept the award, in that it is actual national recognition of what we have achieved here locally,” said CareerEdge executive director Nathalie deWolf. “And we are really grateful to our funders for having the vision and the tenacity to help us achieve this success.”

Formed in 2009, CareerEdge is one of only 31 collaboratives across the United States funded by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

Locally, the group gets financial support from a wide range of donors, such as the Gulf Coast Community Foundation; the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority; the Central Community Redevelopment Agency of Bradenton; Manatee Community Action Agency; and Sarasota County government.

CareerEdge has raised $3.8 million since its inception.

One current focus is on expanding a program called “Bridges to Careers” from Manatee County into Sarasota County. For that program, CareerEdge’s partner is the Suncoast Workforce Board, which operates a trio of local employment centers.

“We try to take entry-level job seekers and guide them toward vocational programs,” deWolf said.

The idea is to give job seekers basic job-readiness training and then vocational training.

“It was only funded in Manatee,” she said. “We will do a similar outreach in Sarasota, rolling it out in October.”

Precision-machining lab is result of great cooperation

The finishing touches are being put on a new precision-machining lab at the Sarasota County Technical Institute. But as important as that training program is to filling a serious shortage of high-skilled manufacturing employees locally, the way it came about and what it says about what happens when organizations work together in our community might be just as significant.

The difficulty that small and mid-size manufacturers have finding skilled machinists had become apparent anecdotally. But that is not enough for the school district to commit its limited resources, and so CareerEdge was approached for a study.

“Part of the impetus behind the CareerEdge study was to provide the school district with the data needed to support the manufacturing training,” said Todd Bowden, executive director of career technical and adult education at SCTI.

It did just that.

CareerEdge, a privately funded workforce-development group that focuses on harnessing a community’s full resources, hired Kempton Research and Planning to conduct a skills-gap study. The results were clear.

When asked about the greatest hiring challenges over next three to five years, 38 percent of manufacturing companies named skilled production workers as the most difficult to find — twice the number who answered engineers and four times the number who said sales and marketing people. And 75 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that schools are not preparing workers with skills needed in manufacturing.

“The study was definitive that the jobs were here in this community,” Bowden said. He moved swiftly to make a change-order in a building already under construction to accommodate the new machining program’s lab.

CareerEdge — the only organization of its kind in Florida as part of the national Funders Collaborative — helped put together the workgroup that began searching for the best solution. The group included: CareerEdge; Sarasota & Manatee Area Manufacturers Association; SCTI and the Sarasota County School Board; Suncoast Workforce Board; Sarasota County Commission; Gulf Coast Community Foundation; Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce; and Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County.

“From the very beginning, there was a spirit of cooperation,” said Jeff Maultsby, director of business and economic development for Sarasota County. “It was really a model effort on how things can be done and should be done.”

The local manufacturers’ organization, SAMA, played a crucial role, representing the 600 manufacturers in the two-county area. Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of SAMA and of Venice-based Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp., dug in with SCTI to help move things along, including the development of the precision machining training program. She probably logged the most hours on a volunteer basis.

In an unusual move, local manufacturing leaders were instrumental in creating the materials needed by the program. It was an employer-led curriculum. That cut the cost of machinery in half, because the people in the field knew what was, and was not, needed.

The whole effort concluded with the Sarasota County Commission approving $343,500 to buy the machining equipment that will make the SCTI program work. Commissioner Christine Robinson made the initial motion in the process, and she was supported by Commissioner Joe Barbetta and the entire commission. That followed an even larger commitment of $655,000 by the School Board — a difficult decision in tight budget times.

“In less than a year from release of the study, the first student will enroll in the program,” Bowden said. “That is a breakneck pace in my line of work.”

The one-year program can handle 25 students at a time. Before it was even listed as available, it had filled up and had a waiting list.

There is one last key step to be taken: “The true confirmation will be when that first class graduates next year and they get jobs,” Bowden said.

The way so many different facets of the community, both in the public and the private sector, saw the need and pulled together to make this program a quick reality is an encouraging sign for the future.

Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at mhuey@ EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.

BUSINESS BUZZ: CareerEdge; dental hygienist anesthesia course; Red Hott Press; Manatee Glens

The CareerEdge Funders Collaborative of Manatee and Sarasota counties has received the 2013 Chairman’s Award for Exemplary Collaborative from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a national philanthropic initiative.

CareerEdge said it was chosen for its measurable results in job and skill training in growth industries, in some cases exceeding its goals by more than 200 percent.

National Fund for Workforce Solutions chairman John Padilla said CareerEdge “embodies the award’s spirit, bringing together employers, educators, government, service providers and philanthropic organizations to deliver education and training services that are advancing the careers of lower-income workers and building system capacity.”

Nathalie deWolf, CareerEdge executive director, stressed that the organization’s results are independently verified. A recent study by Urban Market Ventures showed that the $1.54 million in training grants made by CareerEdge over two years added some $14.5 million to the Gulf Coast economy.

Three U.S. organizations received the Chairman’s Award.

 Dental-hygienist anesthesia course

The deadline is Friday to sign up for a course to meet a new state requirement that allows registered dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

“Local Anesthesia: A Course for Dental Hygienists” will be offered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 6-9 by the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Dental Hygiene Program.

The fee of $1,495 includes breakfast and lunch each day. Registration can be done by phone, mail or in person.

For more information, call the college’s Corporate and Community Development Division at 752-5203, email Cindy Hunter, director of Continuing and Community Education, at or go to

 See your logo on promotions

Red Hott Press, of Sarasota, says it has a new Web solution at that allows businesses, schools and not-for-profit organizations to see their logos on more than 100,000 promotional products.

The new site features a progressive Web design and Payment Card Industry-compliant e-commerce for secure online orders. The site also has videos showing how promotional products work.

 Manatee Glens accreditation

The Florida Department of Children and Families gave “Excellent” performance ratings for standards and practices, and client records, in the residential detox program at Manatee Glens Hospital & Addiction Center, in Bradenton.

Now, in addition to the Manatee Glens Hospital and Outpatient Detox, clients can choose to go through detoxification as a resident in the private Addiction Center, Manatee Glens said.

$205,210 in training money for health care

CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, a Bradenton-based nonprofit that seeks to match workers with employers by boosting skill levels in Southwest Florida, said it has awarded $205,210 in grants to area health care providers and also revived a Manatee-Sarasota county consortium aimed at improving workforce development in the sector.

The five employers who received grants from CareerEdge to partially offset training costs were Blake Medical Center, Life Care Center of Sarasota, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Pines of Sarasota Foundation and Venice Regional Medical Center.

The money, coupled with $1.28 million in spending from participants, will help train 464 local health care workers. Four had previously gotten training money from CareerEdge, but Venice Regional is a new partner.

Meanwhile, CareerEdge has revived the Bi-County Healthcare Committee, formed by Suncoast Workforce but dissolved when funding lapsed in 2010.

The newly named “Sarasota Manatee Healthcare Collaborative” has more than 30 employers and educators participating.

“We provide an open forum to share and learn best practices, discuss challenges, and arrive at solutions together,” said Veronica Lequeux, Blake Medical Center’s vice president of human resources and chairwoman of the collaborative.

Chase to work with CareerEdge

Chase Bank has joined CareerEdge, a nonprofit whose mission includes raising money for workforce development and training in Bradenton and Sarasota counties as a new partner and member of its investors group.

CareerEdge said Chase’s support will help it build on its success in the health care sector and expand services into manufacturing in 2013.

CareerEdge’s other partners include Bank of America, Jane’s Trust and Sarasota County. Chase joins those contributors and seven other private and public organizations on CareerEdge’s steering board.

Jobs Group Brings in $165K

January 08, 2013

SARAOSTA-MANATEE — CareerEdge, a nonprofit work force development and employee training organization, raised $165,000 in the fourth quarter.

Chase Bank is the latest business to invest in the organization, according to a release. The bank, which gave $30,000 to CareerEdge, is currently undergoing a major expansion in branches on the Gulf Coast and statewide. Chase now joins Bank of America and several other organizations on CareerEdge’s steering board. Sarasota County also provides some funds to the organization.

Chase’s support will help CareerEdge build on its success in the health care sector and expand services into manufacturing in 2013, the release adds. “The investment made by Chase and our other partners will directly impact the economic prosperity of our region now and for years to come,” CareerEdge Executive Director Mireya Eavey says in the release. “The professional and financial stability that we help provide not only changes individual lives, but also has a rippling effect in our region. It’s our investors who make that possible.”

CareerEdge seeks to build career paths for lower income employees. It focuses on growth industries and it assists employers who want to fill positions with skilled workers. “CareerEdge’s work in helping more people gain important skills to keep our local economy strong is very important, and we are proud to support it,” Mont McNeal, Chase vice president of middle market banking for the west coast of Florida, says in the release.  “Working together with local economic development organizations and nonprofits like this can make our market more attractive to companies that are considering moving or expanding here.”

– See more at:

Technical machinist training a new route to success

Four years out of Bayshore High School, 21-year-old Maria Garcia has a career that is very different from what most high-school graduates would even consider.

She chose not to go to college. Instead, she attended Manatee Technical Institute for courses in drafting and then in precision machining. She now works as a specialty machinist within a St. Petersburg company that makes parts out of both plastic and metal.

Often, Garcia finds herself making an aluminum or stainless steel part from start to finish.

She uses fancy computer programs to design the components.

Then, she enlists this data to program expensive computer-driven milling machines, which convert what were sketches into cold, hard steel or aluminum.

“Drafting was very cool,” Garcia said, “but it opened up my mind to see that there was more than that, a huge field to be experienced.”

There is a transition going on in American education, in which demand for manufacturing-related skills like those Garcia learned can be more more valuable than a traditional college education. Businesses, philanthropic organizations and technical schools have recognized this shift and sought to capitalize on it in Southwest Florida, a region where economic developers have been working for decades to diversify the employment base beyond its focus on construction, tourism and the service industry.

Manatee Tech, which is scheduled to open its new campus Tuesday on State Road 70, has been long established in Southwest Florida as the place to go to learn basic metal-working skills.

Meanwhile, Sarasota County Technical Institute, which gave up on machinist training during the real estate boom in 2006, is gearing up to offer the training anew in the fall as the school moves into new space on its existing campus at Proctor Road and Beneva Road.

To get his million-dollar program under way, SCTI director Todd Bowden relied on a comprehensive survey of the region’s manufacturers, conducted by a career-promoting non-profit called CareerEdge.

“They cannot fill these positions. We do not have the trained people for these higher-paying manufacturing jobs,” said Mireya Eavey, CareerEdge’s executive director. “We showed how, with a $4,000 investment in a machining certification program, when you graduate you will be hired at approximately $30,000 right out of school.”

On-the-job training, coupled with time-and-a-half pay for overtime, pushes those yearly pay levels higher at a surprising rate. “In two years, you will be between $40,000 and $50,000, and within five-six years you will be at $60,000 to $80,000 a year,” Eavey said.

The shortage in these positions is not just a regional phenomenon.

“We are sending our kids to college and creating a lot of workers who don’t have any unique or differentiating skills,” said Mitch Free, a former machinist who now runs a multimillion-dollar Atlanta company that matches machine shops with jobs, many of which get farmed out to Asia.

“Speaking with owners of machine shops, I am hearing from them that they have job openings they can’t fill, and they are willing to pay for it, good wages,” Free said.

For 20 years, learning machine tool skills has been a losing battle in the United States, because manufacturers were out-sourcing their work to Asia, where workers could be hired to create steel injection molds for far less.

But the tide is turning.

Computerized milling machines, known in the trade as CNC machines, are making the difference, because they put the premium on fewer workers with more smarts.

A typical custom machine shop will still use old-style mills and lathes to get a piece of steel blocked out into an exact rectangle or turned into a perfect cylindrical tube.

But then the shop will lock the work piece into a CNC machine, in which robotic cutters, bits or electrodes are used to sculpt the steel into the exact shape required.

A U.S. advantage

Bowden, the SCTI director, is reaching out to the area’s high school students to recruit his first class this month, starting with two dozen young adults.

They will each pay $4,000, with the rest of the million-dollar start-up costs being absorbed by the Sarasota County School Board coupled with some donations from the manufacturing community.

“That covers everything — tuition, fees, consumables, uniforms, everything they need for the 11-month curriculum,” Bowden said.

Students will begin 30-hour weeks on Aug. 21, 2013, with the course ending in late June 2014.

Once the program gets grounded, Bowden foresees using the same shop to run an evening program, which could help people who already are working but want to gain further skills.

The husband-and-wife team that owns Venice’s Atlantic Mold & Machining Corp. are eager to see the SCTI program get under way.

Brian Schmidt and wife Jennifer Behrens-Schmidt employ just a few highly skilled machinists to turn out very complicated steel molds for creating intricate plastic parts.

While Garcia cranks out physical components designed to be used as-is, the tool-and-die work like Atlantic does is even more intricate.

Workers at the Venice company create the exact steel cavity, complete with cooling channels, that will become the centerpiece for a machine that cranks out the plastic parts.

While the part might be tiny and weigh less than a gram, the mold into which the molten plastic is injected could weigh hundreds of pounds or more and include dozens of separate steel parts.

Holding up a finished part that will be used in abdominal surgery, Jennifer Behrens-Schmidt reveals her sales advantage over an overseas firm.

“Companies sourcing these molds, they aren’t just going to the lower bidder,” she said. “It’s a huge collaboration.”

Being able to work closely with clients on complex projects is a real advantage for the U.S. shops, says Peter Straw, executive director at the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturing Association, or SAMA.

“If I have a company in Sarasota, and I am using dies like Jennifer makes, I can get over there in an afternoon and get any issue resolved,” Straw said.

Case in point: One of Atlantic’s best clients is Tervis Tumbler, which makes its insulated drinkware in the same industrial park.

Greater earning power

While Garcia learned enough from MTI instructor Bob Williams to get her first real job, others, like 55-year old Lisa Payette, are using the same course of study to enhance their earning power.

After years of landing factory jobs and then losing them to out-sourcing decisions, Payette is now employed at the Sarasota division of Gainesville-based Exactech Inc., which makes knee and hip replacements.

Her employer started asking her to run CNC machines. Recognizing her promise as a worker, Exactech then offered her the chance to go to MTI for basic training.

Payette, who had been in manufacturing for 35 years, found herself engaged in very basic exercises, such as creating what Williams calls a 1-2-3 block out of stainless steel.

She started by cutting off a small chunk of steel from a three-foot long piece of stock.

Using manually operated precision grinders, she had to end up with a block that is a 1-by-2-by-3-inch rectangle, perfectly flat on each side, and made within one thousandth of an inch of the size specified by the teacher.

Her first time through the process took 22 hours in the shop. This is a job that a set of CNC machine tools might have been able to do in an hour or two.

But Payette says manually sculpting the steel, and also working with more basic computerized tools at MTI, have given her a better feeling for the limits of the raw material and of the computerized tools she uses at Exactech, where one machine might cost $200,000.

“You have to be so careful with those expensive machines. One wrong push of the button and you cause major damage,” she said.

She already has seen that happen, where a worker was changing over a CNC milling machine to make a different part, but failed to change the machine code that instructs the machine what to do.

The robotic arm, thinking it was moving through air, slammed straight into the chunk of metal it was supposed to sculpt.

“It was like a freight train,” Payette said. “There must have been like $30,000 in damage.”

Sarasota County pushes to train skilled manufacturing workers

SARASOTA COUNTY – Skilled jobs in manufacturing that could boost the middle class are making a comeback across the country, and this region is embarking on a plan to train people for them.

The goal is to close the so-called “skills gap,” in which manufacturers cannot find enough workers who have the know-how to fill high-tech open positions. Talk of the lack of workers who are trained to fill the jobs or even know they exist is occurring nationally.

In this region, educators and manufacturing industry representativesrecently finished a plan for how they will begin to train more workers for the jobs. On Wednesday, their plan gained enthusiastic support from Sarasota County commissioners.

Most of the area’s governments, schools and economic development organizations collaborated on the plan. The first steps will involve reaching out to high schools and high school students.

Yet the technology behind what are being dubbed “middle-skill jobs” like machining and precision welding, which can require a couple of years of post-high school classes and can quickly provide middle-class wages, is often still relatively new.

“You’re talking about a subject I know literally nothing about,” Commissioner Nora Patterson told presenters on Wednesday. Other commissioners echoed that they were more familiar with things like auto manufacturing.

Jennifer Behrens Schmidt, president of the Sarasota Manatee Area Manufacturers Association and owner of Atlantic Mold and Machining Corp., tried to break it down.

“We’ve all seen ‘How It’s Made,’ ” she said, referring to the Science Channel show about manufacturing. “It probably looks crazy complicated from the outside, but it’s really the same industry.”

The plan also calls for paying for on-the-job training, developing appropriate curricula in schools and trying to get more students interested in the industry.

Skilled manufacturing jobs typically have an entry-level wage of about $30,000 a year, but after a couple of years of experience the average wage is $40,000. With more experience, workers can make $50,000 to $80,000 a year, according to those involved with the plan.

The plan’s organizers surveyed 125 employers in the area this year and found 65 percent of them had at least one job opening, with many of those going unfilled for more than three months.

Employers found it hardest to fill jobs for skilled production, with engineering technologists following.

The plan will next be presented to the Sarasota County School Board.

County commissioners were excited by the idea of more manufacturing jobs, which could aid the area’s economic recovery.

Commissioner Christine Robinson, who called the work on the plan “a long-term investment in our community,” said she wondered if having more of those jobs may keep her three children around longer. Younger people in Sarasota County often flee.

“I might have a hope of keeping them here after they graduate from high school,” Robinson said.