Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Workforce Development Summit On Tap for September

Econ Dev. Dir. Glenn Hunter, leads the Workforce Development Committee discussion.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's June 21 Workforce Development Committee meeting had the attendees searching for the best way to bring Columbia County's businesses, educators, and government together to explore employer needs; the demonstrated lack of soft skills in the labor pool; and the employee disconnect between getting a job and keeping a job.

The committee is composed of the Executive Director, the Director of Operations, and the Wagner Pyser Administrator from Career Source/Florida Crown; the President of Florida Gateway College and the college's Director of Media and Public Information; Director of the Chamber of Commerce; a Columbia County School District teacher; the Director of Operations of Target Industries; and Assistant County Manager, Scott Ward.

The meeting was attended by all the members except the School District's Mimbs, who notified the committee that he would not be there and Assistant County Manager Ward, who was MIA.


Columbia County is a RACEC community. This means it is a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern. Its residents are under-educated, under-housed, under-employed, under-paid.

Other than government and a few specific industries, jobs with benefits and a living wage are difficult to come by.

For years, the school district had failing schools and was plagued by underachievement.

Free and reduced lunch approaches 65% and is an indicator of the area's poverty rate.

Parents report that higher education is not encouraged in the school district and the prevailing attitude is "get em' in – get em' out."

During the hey-day of Columbia County agriculture, the County Fathers discouraged economic development in order to keep a cheap and ready work force in the fields.

Workforce Development
A Key to Columbia County's Future

Target's General Manager, Scott Owens, understands first hand the issues
facing some employers.

Yesterday's meeting was a round table and had all the attendees contributing.

The committee came together to discuss a series of questions that Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter put together. They were to be part of a survey that was eventually to be sent out throughout the county.

Chamber Director Dennille Decker questioned the number of responses that would be received in answer to a questionnaire.

Jim North of Career Source mentioned that he recently sent out a three question survey.

Your reporter checked in with Mr. North today. He said he double checked his numbers. "I sent out 155 emails with three questions and received three responses," he said.

In the survey industry a 3% response rate is considered a success.

The committee's only industry member, the General Manager of Target Industries, the distributor of food to Target's stores in the southeast, again mentioned his problems with employee retention and work ethic.

FGC President, Dr. Larry Barrett, reluctantly mentioned that about 50% of students entering Florida Gateway College need some form of remediation.

Workforce Development Summit

The only consensus reached at the meeting was the need to get all the players: employers, educators, and government around the table at the same time in an honest and open discussion.

To that end, the committee agreed that the way to accomplish this was a Work Force Development Summit.

FGC's McKee suggested the college as the venue and September, as it is after summer vacation time.

The committee agreed.

Earlier Today

Earlier today, Anna Mendoza, the Operations Director of Career Source/Florida Crown told the Observer, "I am excited about sitting down face to face with the businesses and educators of the County to explore their needs."

Economic Development Dir. Hunter told the Observer, "It's a great opportunity to bring together all the players to move Columbia County toward a skilled workforce that attracts high-paying jobs with a future.

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