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.”