Local companies are adding an estimated 365 jobs, thanks in part to a nearly $5 million federal job-training grant that’s designed to reduce the hiring of immigrants on special visas.
“This program helps companies hire workers who have 85 percent or less of the skills they need to fill their needs,” says Kim Tesch-Vaught, executive director of FloridaWorks.
FloridaWorks is administering the grant as part of its work in providing training and job placement services for Alachua and Bradford counties.
Funding comes from fees that the federal government collects for immigrant workers who obtain H-1B visas. The visas are designed to help U.S. companies fill jobs for which they can’t find qualified American workers.
“Area companies are having a big problem filling all their positions at a time when so many people here are out of work,” Tesch-Vaught says. “We’re helping people with professional backgrounds fill their 15 percent skill gap.”
Among companies creating jobs with the program are start-ups Altavian and NeuroNet Learning.
Altavian has added four employees through the program and plans to add several more, says co-founder Thomas Rambo. The new employees will help the company, which builds unmanned aircraft, accelerate its expansion, he says.
“All of us who started the company are UF grads, and we’re close to UF students,” Rambo says. “The grant provides us a great opportunity to provide grads with the specific toolset they need to work with us.”
Altavian workers need on-the-job training because the technology in which it’s involved is evolving rapidly, Rambo says.
Planes that the company built for the Army Corps of Engineers fly over bridges, dams and other structures and take multiple photos, which are stitched together. “We create a mosaic that the corps can use to determine weaknesses in the structures,” Rambo says.
The grant is helping NeuroNet grow from two employees to six, says co-founder Jonathan Rowe. The new employees will include a marketing director, a graphic designer, a computer animator and a computer programmer. The new hires will help NeuroNet both improve its product and find new customers, Rowe says.
Schools and therapists use NeuroNet’s software and other products to help children and young adults learn better through movement training.
“Starting up a company is complicated, and it takes time to do everything we need to do,” Rowe says. “We’re able to progress faster because of the positions we’re filling.”
The grant program, called Healthcare Biomanufacturing Occupational and Technology Training, reimburses employees for up to 90 percent of the training costs for three to six months for new employees.
The Business Competitiveness Committee of FloridaWorks awarded funds based on evaluations made by business and community leaders. “We were able to help companies regardless of where they are on the entrepreneurship cycle,” Tesch-Vaught says.
Information about HBOTT is available at floridaworksonline.com.