Overcoming the ‘workforce deficit’
December 14th, 2023
By JESSICA ORLANDO, Staff Writer - Englewood Sun
ENGLEWOOD — Charlotte County’s main hurdle in the “workforce deficit” is its demographics.
That’s what Charlotte County Economic Development Director Dave Gammon is trying to help fix.
Gammon spoke to the Business Network International networking group this week at Artur’s restaurant. He laid out some of the statistics that tell the story.
Charlotte County is home to 202,661 people, according to census.gov figures from 2022.
Of those, more than 40% were 65 and older.
The 18-and-younger population is less than 12%.
That many people in the oldest bracket creates an age-to-workforce ratio that puts a strain on businesses all over the county.
At the same time, with a lack of businesses offering a wage in line with the standard of living, it’s difficult to attract recent graduates or keep younger generations within Charlotte County.
Gammon says the Charlotte County Economic Development recognizes these concerns, but with time and patience, the county can draw a workforce to the community and retain some of the young people after they graduate from high school or college.
It starts with affordability, appeal and commitment, Gammon said.
“What we’re trying to do is bring in a different type of development that we don’t really have in Charlotte County,” he said. “It’s vibrant, urban and a has a little more energy that will attract the younger population in order to get more jobs and people in the area.”
Gammon is referring to vertical mixed-use development which can be seen in Sarasota, and closer to Charlotte County in North Port’s new Wellen Park neighborhoods.
Typically, the lower floors will contain commercial businesses — like shops and restaurants — while the upper floors can be offices and apartments.
One of these is on its way to the center of Port Charlotte’s oldest neighborhood, Parkside.
“We’ve got a Miami developer putting to use that mixed-use zoning ordinance,” he said. “He’s going to repurpose Promenades Mall into a vertical mixed-use complex called Parkside Village.”
The 1970s-era mall in the center of the neighborhood will give way to more mixed-use buildings.
Opportunities like Parkside Village may be one solution to the workforce equation.
“People can walk to work, walk to their apartments and grab a coffee and eat,” Gammon said. “It’s not adding to the traffic we already have, either.”
The vertical mixed-use development coupled with statewide and countywide initiatives developed by the Economic Development could put the county on a track from dormant to steady growth.
ENLISTING SERVICE PERSONNEL
One program the county is using is called PCS Charlotte County which helps those who are leaving the military to find career opportunities in Charlotte County.
PCS is a military acronym for “permanent change of station” and is aimed at people who are getting ready to leave the U.S. military.
“When they give a six-month notice saying they’re not re-enlisting, we send them an email and introduce them to Charlotte County,” Gammon said. “We talk with all of our major employers, and ask about guaranteed jobs for these soon-to-be veterans so they can come work in our community.”
When the program launched, Gammon said the website had more than 20,000 hits during their first phase.
“Growth is about changing it up,” he said.
LIVE LOCAL ACT
Another program the Economic Development Department is working with is an affordable housing initiative called the “Live Local Act.”
The program was created by the Florida Legislature to fund and incentivize workforce housing.
“Affordable housing and workforce housing is an issue in Charlotte County, Sarasota County, Florida and the entire country,” he said. “People need someone where to live in order to work here.”
CCED has been holding workshops with the county’s large employers like hospitals, the school district, Cheney Brothers or the Sheriff’s Office.
Gammon said they all share one common issue in their stories.
“Let’s use the hospital for instance,” he said. “A nurse get’s offered a job, moves Charlotte County, but can’t afford to live here so she has to resign and go somewhere else.”
According to Gammon, Live Local was created to help with this issue by allowing commercial, industrial or multi-use property in Florida to be used for workforce housing, suitable for nurses, teachers, deputies, and others.
“We need people to come here, so the community can grow,” he said. “This act allows us to look at the problem in a different way. This is a different type of living that is affordable, cool and multi-functional.”
CCED is also becoming involved in the county’s education community.
“Charlotte County Schools Superintendent Mark Vianello reached out to the business community, which has never happened before,” he said. “He’s helping us provide opportunities for our employers.”
The discussions took place in a newly formed Businesses Advisory Committee which contains both business professionals and educators in order to learn what kind of skill gaps students are facing, today.
“We discussed what the school systems need to provide in order to ensure growth in our industries,” he said. “Interestingly, we discovered that they are not providing students with soft skills.”
Even in today’s workforce many of the business professionals would like to see students who know how to shake hands, make eye contact and answer phones.
“These can be complicated issue, but with vision and thinking outside of the box, Charlotte County is on the track of growth,” Gammon said.
For more information, visit cleared4takeoff.com or call 941-764-4941.