County agencies making dent in Glades unemployment

BELLE GLADE — While job seekers in coastal Palm Beach County are looking at a pretty bright job market, the outlook is a lot less optimistic among the Glades communities on the county’s “other coast.”

That’s why there are several county agencies constantly working on trying to make things better. Two of them are CareerSource Palm Beach County and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

CareerSourse PBC, which provided the numbers making up the overall county report showing the countywide unemployment numbers dropping to a record low of 2.8%, also shared this information about the Glades region’s situation.

Unemployment rates by city
According to Tom Veenstra, vice president for administration of CareerSource PBC, these are the most recent unemployment rates for the three main cities of the Glades:
• Belle Glade — 4.9%
• Pahokee — 26.3%
• South Bay — 14.0%
The overall weighted average unemployment rate for the Glades cities combined is 17.29%.
The Glades region has long been known as the county’s most economically challenged, but the two aforementioned agencies have been active in trying to draw more opportunities for its citizens.

Mr. Veenstra said CareerSource and the county’s other agencies have cooperated in ongoing efforts for many years that are multi-pronged, aimed to attract new business and help train residents to fill different jobs in an economy that, while anchored by the agricultural industries that are the Glades’ backbone, is constantly morphing to accommodate innovative new companies.

Unfortunately, that sector is not among the ones growing, according to the county’s overall numbers. The Glades region has added newer “green” companies in recent years, though, such as the one manufacturing disposable dinnerware out of sugarcane waste products.

Region of critical concern
“Because of the critical service needs there, CareerSource Palm Beach County operates a career center in Belle Glade and plays a leading role in collaborative efforts to increase employment and ecaonomic development there,” Mr. Veenstra stated.

The West Career Center is the office he refers to, and it’s a hub of learning and job search assistance activities, including computers available for public use. Their staff offers career counseling, job search workshops and help, hiring events, printers and fax machines, priority service for veterans, and specialized departments for those with disabilities and for youths and older people.

It is located at 1085 S. Main St. in Belle Glade’s downtown, a short drive or bus ride from Pahokee and South Bay. Their phone number is 561-829-2040.

He said that CareerSource works hand in hand with others in trying to alleviate the harsh economic realities on the county’s other coast.

“CareerSource has convened and facilitated programs between employers, communities and educational institutions, such as the county school district and Palm Beach State College, the Business Development Board, the Lake Okeechobee Regional Economic Alliance and the Business Roundtable,” he said.

Mr. Veenstra also pointed out, “While the population in the Glades communities is less than 3 percent of the county at large (estimated at around 42,000), about 20 percent of CareerSource Palm Beach County’s total budget, including 12 percent of training funds, goes to serving the Glades communities. This past year, we assisted the Palm Beach County mayor and our community partners in obtaining a $1.5 million state grant to support training and employment opportunities in the Glades communities.”

They’ve had some success, Mr. Veenstra said.

“During the past five program years, CareerSource has helped place more than 8,200 Glades area residents into jobs and provided $1.6 million in training funds to local employers and residents. As a result of these and other collaborative efforts, area unemployment has been reduced by 40 percent during the past 5 program years,” he asserted.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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