Here are some of the findings and recommendations in the final Collier County Community Housing Plan. Wochit
(Photo: Daily News file)
When Florida’s annual 60-day legislative session kicked off earlier this month, legislators made the trek to Tallahassee armed with a long to-do list.
But they aren’t the only ones hoping to accomplish much in a short amount of time. Members of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce leadership team are traveling to Tallahassee on Jan. 24 to advocate for several Chamber and community priorities, including increased workforce housing and workforce training opportunities, long-time issues of importance for the organization.
Local employers have told the Chamber team that the cost of housing and the lack of a skilled workforce is a barrier to economic growth. We have heard countless stories of employers having to look out-of-state to hire skilled workers, only for job offers to be rejected because of the high cost of housing or long commute times from neighboring counties.
Collier County commissioners appear to be taking steps to address these challenges at a local level. The Collier County Community Housing Plan recommended several steps the county could take to reduce regulations, increase density and fund workforce housing initiatives. Commissioners have agreed to ask affordable housing developers to submit proposals to either purchase or enter into a public-private partnership to build housing on two pieces of property.
A truck passes by a sign for a proposed housing development to be called Rural Lands West in rural Collier County on Thursday, July 9, 2015.
(Photo: Scott McIntyre/Naples Daily News)
The board appears to be poised to move forward with a proposal to put a 1 percent infrastructure sales surtax increase on the 2018 ballot. That proposal could set aside a total of $20 million over seven years for land or other infrastructure necessary for workforce housing.
But workforce housing isn’t just a Collier County issue, and shouldn’t be dealt with as such. Communities across the state are having similar conversations about how to make sure there are housing options that are safe and affordable for a variety of citizens. While communities are trying to put more local dollars into housing, state dollars have been diverted elsewhere.
A bill by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo could stop that. The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Rep. Sean Shaw in the House, would prohibit lawmakers from transferring money out of the State and Local Housing Trust Fund. It is supported by the Sadowski Coalition, and would make sure dollars earmarked for housing were used for that purpose.
Tony Hernandez, USDA Administrator for Rural Housing Services, speaks to a packed crowd during the SWFL Promise Zone Kickoff Meeting at Immokalee Technical College in Immokalee on Sept. 22, 2016. The 10-year-program, which aims to help high-poverty areas across the country, will provide each designated zone with preferred access to certain federal grants, the support of a federal employee who will work full-time to help communities implement goals and get access to federal programs, help from another employee who will advocate for the communities before federal agencies, and the help of up to five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members.
Projections show Collier County will need 43,000 new jobs by 2030. As our population grows, we need to consider what types of jobs those will be. While the tourism and service industry will always be a strong and vibrant part of our community, there are other ways to grow our local and regional economy.
That’s why the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, which is the designated economic development organization for Collier County, applied for a grant through the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to expand and enhance the machining program at Immokalee Technical College.
During a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott at our offices earlier this month, manufacturers explained why this funding is needed. They have also sent letters of support, explaining how their growth far exceeds the number of available skilled workers in this region. The application has also been supported by business, educational and community leaders.
But the grant dollars are just one piece of the puzzle.
While there has been significant interest in building a centrally-located workforce training and development center as part of the county’s proposed 1 percent infrastructure sales surtax ballot initiative, we can’t just hope if that “if you build it, they will come.”
Instead we need to shift the way we talk about technical education, and create a culture where students feel comfortable following a path that doesn’t include a traditional, four-year postsecondary education. That conversation needs to occur at all levels of education, at our dinner tables, in our boardrooms and by our elected representatives.
It’s part of our everyday discussions with local officials and business leaders in Collier County. We are hopeful that our trip to Tallahassee will give us the chance to meet with members of the state House and Senate, economic developers and other statewide leaders to advocate for these important Chamber and community priorities.
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Connect with the Chamber is a monthly column written by The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce team. Michael Dalby is the president and CEO of the Chamber. For more info, call 239-262-6376 or visit napleschamber.org.