January 13, 2015. The Sun Sentinel.

More jobs could come from Palm Beach County‘s new taxpayer-funded incentives for businesses to hire and train local workers.

One plan encourages companies hired for county construction projects to voluntarily train a new generation of ironworkers, carpenters and other trade workers through apprenticeship programs.

The other plan calls for county contractors to hire more workers from economically struggling western communities, including Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee, which have long been plagued by high unemployment.

In both cases, the county would use taxpayer dollars to pay the contractors 20 to 30 percent of the salaries of those apprentices and of the new employees hired from the Glades communities.

“I think it provides a real incentive, [but] it depends on contractor participation,” County Administrator Robert Weisman said.

The County Commission Tuesday approved the new job creation incentive programs, which officials said would take effect immediately. How much the incentives end up costing taxpayers depends on how many contractors participate.

County officials say that the potential public cost is worth the opportunity to create more jobs.

“We all started somewhere,” County Mayor Shelley Vana said. “Everyone deserves to have a good job; to have a home.”

For the apprentice incentive program, the county would pay 20 percent of the salaries for trainees, up to $100,000 per county construction project. That cap goes up to $200,000 on larger county construction projects.

The county opted for creating the incentive program instead of trying to require construction companies on county jobs to train new workers.

Union leaders and building industry representatives alike supported the apprenticeship program.

“It will benefit many people that live here,” said Sean Mitchell, of Ironworkers Local Union 402. “You have a better trained workforce, a safer workforce.”

The county’s apprentice program comes as Florida faces having a shortage of skilled trade workers, said Carol Bowen, vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida. The voluntary apprentice program allows people to “learn on the job” without creating another regulatory hurdle for private companies, according to Bowen.

For the Glades residents hiring incentive plan, the county would pay 30 percent of the wages for new employees from the targeted towns who are hired by county contractors. The county would cap the amount a contractor could receive in salary compensation at $100,000 per project.

The county is singling out the three communities alongside Lake Okeechobee for the extra help because unemployment there is about 32 percent, compared to 5.5 percent eastern Palm Beach County, according to the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

Crumbling roads, dilapidated housing and worn out water and sewer lines make it harder to attract new businesses to the three Glades communities, which also suffer from shrinking numbers of agricultural jobs.

“There is no other area in Palm Beach County that can compare to the circumstances in the Glades,” said County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district includes the western communities.

The county’s creation of a Glades residents hiring incentive came in response to a coalition of two dozen local religious congregations that in March called for the county to do more to address unemployment in the western communities.

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, known as PEACE, has raised concerns that Glades residents too often miss out on job opportunities from county projects that build roads, new buildings and other infrastructure improvements.

The new county Glades hiring incentive coupled with improved job training opportunities through the county and local schools can help get western communities “moving in the right direction,” said People Engaged representative the Rev. Robert Rease, of St. John First Missionary Baptist Church in Belle Glade.

The Glades hiring incentive program “is just a start” and more must be done to improve economic opportunities, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said.

“It is going to be incumbent on us to not let it drop,” Taylor said. “Make sure that it is something that is working.”