A state marketing campaign will focus on attracting new businesses to South Jersey, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said during a Monday visit to Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township to promote workforce alignment of businesses with workers.
A resolution sponsored by state Sen Jeff. Van Drew, D-Atlantic to create a a “First District Economic Development Task Force” also passed a Senate Committee Monday. If approved by the full Senate it would target the areas of Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic County, which have some of the highest unemployment in the state.
Local business leaders told Guadagno and other state officials at a roundtable discussion hosted by Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp that they need more trained employees and they need to find better ways to connect with qualified job seekers.
Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said when he was looking for a plant manager for his Atlantic City bakery he wound up hiring a head hunter and all of the responses came from out of state. He said the state needs to promote the jobs it has.
“People don’t think there are jobs here (in South Jersey),” he said during a discussion with Harold J. Wirths, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks. “They always think you have to look out of state for a good job.
Guadagno said there are some 200,000 open jobs in New Jersey, yet the state still has an unemployment rate of more than 7 percent.
“Why is there this discord between jobs and unemployment?” she asked.
Wirths said there must be better communication so that job-seekers know how to find jobs using resources already developed by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
“We know where every job is in the state,” he said.
Leaders from larger businesses, including AtlantiCare, Shore Medical Center and Borgata said they have worked with Stockton and Atlantic Cape Community College on workforce training. The gap may be in connecting with smaller businesses.
Anthony Coppola Sr. clead partner in the Towne of Historic Smithville LLC, said he needs English as a Second Language classes for foreign-born workers, and Spanish as a second language training for non-native speakers. Atlantic Cape Community College President Peter Mora said they have done classes with casinos and could do a similar program with Smithville.
Paul Gentilini, owner of Gentilini Motors in Woodbine, said finding qualified auto technicians is always a challenge, but there are few training options in the southernmost part of the state. Wirths said on-the-job training grants could help.
Mora said after the meeting that what might be needed is a consortium of similar small businesses, such as car dealers, who could work together to get training for their employees.
“I’d be willing to pilot that idea,” he said.
Stockton already hosts a state Talent Network for hospitality and tourism, one of seven Talent Networks in the state targeting different industries.
Bharat Aggarwal, president of Pilani’s Live in Style, said he owns three shops on the Atlantic City Boardwalk that carry private-label merchandise, and he would like to see an effort to upgrade the merchandise sold on the Boardwalk.
“Retailing on the Boardwalk is essential but it is spiraling downward and getting tackier,” he said.
Atlantic County Freeholder Alex Marino, who also runs Stockton’s Carnegie Center in Atlantic City, said during a reception that they held a successful job fair recently that matched specific job seekers with employers looking for those talents. He questioned whether the county Workforce Investment Boards could be reconfigured to have less bureaucracy and more job alignment.
Guadagno has already traveled to area high schools and vocational schools to see what students are learning, and is now meeting with businesses and higher education officials to see what employers need so graduates can get jobs.
Hendricks said the goal is to have schools and employers working together.
“Let’s connect the dots,” Hendricks said.
Van Drew said by phone that his proposed 11-member task force would focus on specific issues facing the First District because the area needs to retain and rebuild its population of working families.
“People up north think of the shore as just beaches and hotels and restaurants,” he said. “They see the beauty, but they don’t see the unemployment and lack of opportunity after the summer is over. There is a culture of unemployment we have to break.”
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