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Tarpon wants grant to create jobs

(ran PW edition of PT)

The proposed $30-million headquarters for ABR Information Services Inc. could provide a valuable dividend for the city _ jobs for some of its neediest residents.

City officials want to apply for a $300,000 state grant to help ABR create jobs for low- to moderate-income people.

The state economic development grant could be used to create turn lanes on U.S. 19 at ABR's entrance and for a job-training program, City Manager Costa Vatikiotis said.

In return, ABR would be asked to promise jobs for up to 150 low- to moderate-income residents with no more than a high school education.

"It's a win-win proposition," City Commissioner David Archie said Tuesday after a commission meeting.

ABR officials are interested but wary of committing to a specific number of jobs and unsure the application can be completed before the state's deadline March 28.

The application would have to be approved by the City Commission at a special session Tuesday and be sent to the state Department of Community Affairs before the state's deadline.

"We are in the preliminary stages of looking at it," said John Popson, ABR's director of government affairs.

ABR, which administers health care benefits programs for other companies, estimates it will have about 1,500 employees by 2000. The company plans to build a 400,000-square-foot office plaza east of U.S. 19 on the banks of the Anclote River.

Many of the jobs that will be created as ABR grows will be in data entry and customer service. ABR officials declined to release the salaries such jobs could have.

With or without the state grant, the Citizens Alliance for Progress, which provides social services in the city's poorest neighborhood, would like to develop jobs for poor residents.

Commissioner Archie, CAP's executive director, has been working with other officials from state and county agencies and the University of South Florida for two years on a job development task force. The group is trying to create job-training programs and inform local businesses of tax incentives they can get for hiring low-income people.

"If the city gets the grant, it will be something special in addition to the work we're doing," Archie said. "ABR is one business we're targeting."

People who live in the neighborhood south of downtown and east of Safford Avenue especially need better jobs, Archie said. According to a study completed in February, a third of the residents in the neighborhood make less than $9,000 a year, and another third make less than $19,000.