ATLANTIC CITY — There are really two places called Atlantic City when it comes to bolstering jobs.
There is the one that exists, with an overabundance of low-skilled workers, only about 16% of whom have college degrees, and many of whom live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And there is the one people dream about creating, in which new industries attract highly educated workers in aviation, technology and the sciences.
Somehow, community leaders, government officials and businesses must figure out how to increase employment for both versions of the city, if the dream of a diversified economy and thriving community is to become a reality.
Atlantic County Chief of Staff Howard Kyle wants people to take a broader, regional approach to job creation.
“The best way to bring jobs to Atlantic City is to bring jobs to Atlantic County,” Kyle said.
There is no reason why many of Atlantic City’s 39,000 residents can’t commute to jobs at the Atlantic City International Airport or National Aviation and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, which he and others in the county were instrumental in getting built, Kyle said.
He and other county officials also are working with the South Jersey Transportation Authority and Atlantic County Economic Alliance to bring an aviation repair and maintenance operation to the airport. If it decides to come here, the county will build it a hangar, officials have said.
“Most of the better-paying jobs for Atlantic City residents will be located offshore,” said Kyle, who was born and raised in the resort.
It is simpler to build on the Mainland, where there is more land; and easier to attract businesses to existing infrastructure.
“In Atlantic City, there is not a single Class A office building,” Kyle said, meaning a modern building with modern amenities available for rent.
And new construction so far has concentrated in the “eds and meds” sectors, like the Stockton University Atlantic City Campus that opened in September, and a planned expansion of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.
While “eds and meds” are vital to any city, the jobs available in them can often require higher level education and skills.
Stockton’s Atlantic City Campus Chief Operating Officer Brian Jackson said 200 part-time and full-time jobs, including student jobs, have been created in the first year of the city campus. About 70 of them are filled by workers who live in the city, he said.
About 50 are with Stockton and the rest are with vendors that run the bookstore, shuttle, food service and security, Jackson said.
But Stockton’s teaching and administration jobs, by their very nature, require hiring people with master’s degrees or doctorates, he said. Even secretarial or administrative assistant positions can require bachelor’s degrees, he said.
“We recognize not everyone has had the opportunity for access to a 4-year degree, but being in the university environment we strongly encourage that,” Jackson said. “We have incentive programs such as tuition waiver that make it much easier and affordable for employees and their dependents to get a Stockton degree.”
The need for jobs for city residents remains great, with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent compared to 7 percent countywide, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2012-2017.
The unemployment rate for the county has declined to 4.1 percent, according to federal figures. But up-to-date figures were not available for the city.
Rhonda Lowry is the director of Atlantic County’s Workforce Development Board, which shares a building in Pleasantville with the state unemployment office and state employment development office on Main Street.
The unemployment insurance office handles payments, the employment office handles outreach to businesses to help match workers with them, and the WDB provides the training and education workers need to land jobs, Lowry said.
“We work hand-in-hand,” Lowry said. “We prepare those who are either dislocated or underemployed/unemployed to get skills to get the current jobs out there.”
Her clients up to age 25 skew more to Atlantic City and Pleasantville residents, Lowry said, but older people in need of job retraining come from all over the county.
This year, starting July 1, she began a new program to focus on the specific needs of employers, she said.
“We have put out a Request for Proposals to solicit a pool of vendors,” Lowry said, who would provide training tailored to the needs of specific businesses who are willing to hire people.
“If (a casino) said they needed a specific type of cook, we would contract with a school,” Lowry said, to provide just that specific training and no more. It might be a particular cuisine, a short-order cook or other restricted needs.
A student might not complete an entire culinary program at Atlantic Cape Community College, which might take too long and provide too broad a range of training, she said. The job seeker would only get the specific type of training needed by the casino hotel.
“We couldn’t do this last year,” Lowry said.
When the RFPs come in, they will tell her which vendors are able to do custom training, “and how much it will cost me,” Lowry said.
“In the past, we normally just get people who say, ‘We need this job filled,’ and we find people to fit those needs,” Lowry said. “We want to be able to match them better.”
If the aircraft maintenance company comes to the airport, it may take a while to get a school up and running to fill those jobs, she said.
“We may have to bring people in at first, then hopefully have a pipeline with a school here,” Lowry said. “If people are making more money, they are spending more, and it makes our economy better, too. It starts with making the employer come first.
Lowry wrote a successful grant to get state funding to pay youth ages 16 to 14 $10 an hour to work in Atlantic County businesses this summer, to gain experience and help them financially while also helping businesses.
It’s going well, she said, with about 75 young people placed in jobs from the eds and meds sector to a funeral home.
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