BROOKSVILLE — Citing the loss of grant funding, the Hernando Employment and Training Association has closed its offices in the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park.
And the owner of the building in which the program had operated is not happy, having spent thousands of dollars to improve the facility.
"It's one of those unfortunate things," said HETA president Edward Tordesillas. "We had anticipated receiving some grant funding which didn't pan through. We just ran out of funds."
Tordesillas said the nonprofit, which he founded in 2009 to help unemployed construction workers learn shipbuilding skills, hasn't shut its doors entirely; it has just had to downsize dramatically, including the layoff of his employees.
"The vision is still there," Tordesillas said. "We are procuring a small office. The training has been postponed until further notice. We're just doing counseling and job placement services."
HETA graduated 66 marine joiners, most of whom qualified for a $5,000 training voucher through Career Central. An influx of federal stimulus money enabled many out-of-work residents to learn new skills, and Tordesillas thought the organization had found a niche in shipbuilding. No one else in Florida was providing that type of training, he said.
But as the economy continued its downward spiral, jobs in marine joining weren't as plentiful as anticipated. HETA's mission quickly evolved from shipbuilding to other technical education fields, including automotive technician, structural ship welding and precision machining.
But to conduct such training, the organization needed more space.
At the Regent Oaks corporate park on Premier Drive, where HETA already had a 4,500-square-foot lease, there was room to grow. Jennifer Miley, president of family-owned Regent Properties, worked closely with Tordesillas to design 8,000 square feet of additional classroom space in a new building, with plans to begin classes in the fall 2010. The build-out cost was $270,000, most of which was to be rolled into a six-year lease, said Miley.
In October, Tordesillas expressed concern about HETA's finances, citing the loss of a considerable grant due to bad publicity about his success rate finding jobs for graduates. But he was confident he could find a way to make it work.
"He told us, 'We just need to wait until the smoke clears,' " Miley said.
But the following month, Tordesillas sent e-mail to Miley, calling the situation desperate. He said if HETA could get into the new space with just a $5,800 deposit, he was certain the organization could begin classes and generate funding.
A few days after gaining access to the new space, Tordesillas sent Miley a final e-mail.
"At this point HETA has suffered a devastating financial hardship in which it cannot fund its current operations," he wrote on Dec. 3. "The loss of our grant funds and not having the ability to recruit enough students into the training has left us with no other options but to close."
HETA's deposit check for $5,800 bounced, Miley said.
She was disappointed, but understood. A veteran commercial leasing agent, she had seen many businesses fold, especially in this economy. But she wondered how involved HETA's board had been or what specific grants the nonprofit had been expecting.
When someone has representatives from county government on their board and they are receiving state and federal grant dollars, they appear credible, Miley said.
When pressed, Tordesillas said his board had met once. He declined to give any specifics about the grants.
Miley contacted some of the board members herself. Valerie Pianta, program coordinator with the county's Office of Business Development, said she had served on HETAs board, but was unable to make the one meeting that took place. She has since resigned, stating that HETA's new, scaled-back mission was no longer aligned with manufacturing.
"It's disheartening," Mike McHugh, the county's manager of economic development, said of HETA's actions. "We are in desperate need of technical training. We have to drive long distances to find that type of training for our companies or perspective companies."
Miley was surprised to learn recently that HETA was still operating at a new location.
"We're not excited about being hit for a ton of money," she said. "But for him to just move up the street and continue his bad business practices is unethical."
Tordesillas said every organization takes risks, including HETA. And a nonprofit is always waiting for its next grant to be able to operate, he said.
"We thought we'd identified one," he said. "It was very promising."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The last name of Jennifer Miley, president of Regent Properties, was misspelled several times in a story Friday.