Progress on training center picks up speed

For years there has been a widely held belief that education – training – is the way this longtime agricultural area will survive and thrive in the future. Although it is a standing goal to bring vocational training to Hendry and Glades counties on a large scale, the reality has been extremely difficult to accomplish.

For several years, both Hendry and Glades have been systematically working toward that goal. The Glades County Regional Training Center (GCRTC) is at the core of the plan, the place where they hope to provide the training that will spark this area’s economic rebirth by providing trained employees for manufacturing and logistics jobs. Interest has waxed and waned over the years as a number of large companies have shown strong interest in the center, then backed away as the recession took its toll. Now the counties are again ready to pool their efforts to make that center, which is located at the junction of U.S. 27 and State Road 78 near the Glades County Sheriff’s Office and health department, a focal point for growth. Several years ago, the State of Florida provided $3.5 million for the center’s first year and Glades kicked in $500,000 for the building and parking lot, along with another $1 million for infrastructure, including roads, power and water. The facility is currently offering GED and citizenship classes, provided by the Glades County School Board, and commercial driver license classes, run by Suncoast Trucking. At a joint meeting on Thursday, April 5, commissioners, administrators and educators from both counties continued brainstorming about the future of GCRTC and its potential impact on the area. A successful training program like the one envisioned for the center could provide residents with good, solid employment and the county with economic stability. Planners know that goal is not yet in reach, and they know they will need support from outside the immediate area to make it so. One of the topics of discussion was lining up just that kind of support. In previous conversations, the commissioners had discussed hiring a director for the facility. At this joint meeting, however, they were more inclined toward hiring a single administrative person to coordinate the center. The planners had a consensus that the GCRTC should be run through the Local Educational Agency (LEA), keeping control of the project local.

The hope, though, is that an experienced educational entity can be found to underwrite and run the project. Planners are looking forward to providing a center like the Immokalee Technical College (known as iTech), on a smaller scale. Collier County Public Schools, with its highly successful iTech facility, is willing to work on the project. In fact, CCPS Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton is scheduled to visit here in the next few weeks. Assistance is also being sought from Florida Gulf Coast University, Hodges University, Florida Southwestern College, Fort Myers Technical College and other institutions. An experienced educational entity would be able to run the facility and expand into appropriate courses for incoming businesses. Perhaps, a local volunteer from the VISTA program (Volunteers In Service To America), which would not require any local funding, would be useful as well. Planners are seriously considering using money from Hendry, Glades and the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board (each has pledged $20,000) for three years to cover salary and benefits for an administrator to coordinate the facility.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley is looking at possible funding that might be available from Senate Bill 10, which expedites construction of a water storage reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Tuition may also provide some funding.

Planners agreed that they need to market the center to area high school students, including Hendry, Glades, Okeechobee and other surrounding counties, to make the project viable. There are many variables to consider, but the commissioners would like to see some additional progress for the fall term. They realize local students are at an economic disadvantage and that this center could ultimately provide them with a way of life through a good living in a trade.

The two county commissions will meet again on June 12 at 11:30 a.m. in Glades County to continue sharing information and discussion points.

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