Greater synergy for Manatee County's economic development

December 31, 2013 

The business, education and religious communities all have vested interests in economic development and civic improvements as vital ways to enhancing our quality of life. Several new encouraging signs of synergy have appeared this month. And with a rebounding economy and job growth in Manatee County, these come at an opportune time.

Port, schools unite

Port Manatee and the Manatee County School District are brainstorming on building a stronger workforce with new businesses heading to the port. Manatee Technical Institute is planning to expand its training programs to meet those new demands. The Suncoast Workforce Board also attended this month's meeting.

Surprisingly, county economic development staff had not had information on student studies and certificates, but the district will share that important data so recruiters can better serve potential new businesses.

Schools Superintendent Rick Mills said it best: "I think it's a good step in cross coordination and greater outcomes for drawing business here and increasing employment opportunities."

City reaching out

Bradenton's Central Community Redevelopment Agency is opening lines of communication with pastors and congregations to secure greater community input about concerns for the development of the area near the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue corridor. That key section of the community is set for additional improvements soon with the construction of the Save-A-Lot Plaza on 13th Avenue West.

Bradenton Councilman Harold Byrd and CCRA Director Tim Polk are leading this effort at economic and social improvements, and kudos to both.

The CCRA's mission is the rehabilitation and economic development of neglected and blighted neighborhoods, and the MLK corridor has seen several in recent years -- most notably, the new 13th Avenue Dream Center.

Beyond nurturing new businesses, Byrd hopes this initiative creates new youth recreation opportunities, reduces crime and provides conflict resolution -- all part of improving the neighborhood's quality of life.

New mentor program

Here's a New Year's challenge: In January, the Manatee County School District will launch a new program to boost homeless or at-risk students.

Project Heart, the district's 2-decade-old Title X homeless program, will expand beyond its current mission of providing school supplies, clothing and food.

A student mentorship program will be added to further the education of youth by helping out with college and technical school applications and other counseling to propel young adults into academic, career and personal success. The commitment for mentors is rigorous -- twice-a-month meetings with students until college graduation.

The program will be starting small with only six students who qualify as homeless under federal guidelines.

Here's the challenge: Mentors are needed. Volunteers can contact Project Heart at 941-721-2090.

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