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Grant helps companies sharpen skills of workers

Staying ahead of the competition might not come cheaply, but it does come at a discount for a number of Pasco and Hernando companies.

Thanks to a matching grant from the state, 15 manufacturers in the counties will beef up the work skills of 256 of their employees. The price tag for that job training: nearly $358,000.

Almost half of the money _ $172,000 _ is being administered by the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Regional Board as part of a 50 percent matching grant from Workforce Florida.

The goal is to ensure locally based companies remain vital in the marketplace, said Lee Ellzey, executive director of the Pasco Hernando jobs board.

The effort comes at a time when the transfer of manufacturing and other jobs out of state and overseas remains a concern for some workers.

In the North Suncoast, "manufacturing has been identified as one of the high-paying, high-wage industries," Ellzey said Wednesday. Health care and technology jobs also top the priority list.

To help grow the success of such industries, this year's grant-funded programs range from managerial training to computer assisted drafting instruction for Pasco and Hernando companies.

The training could start next week for some due to hurricane delays. Word of the available money initially spread in June. Screening took place in August.

Still, this is the first time that local companies have seriously availed themselves of the grant money that was first offered by the state two years ago.

In 2003, only five Pasco/Hernando companies received the grant _ totalling about $30,000, compared with $172,000 this year. The problem?

"Pasco and Hernando didn't get their fair share of the pie last time because word didn't get out," said John Walsh with the Pasco EDC. "Last year we decided we were going to keep better track of the training needs that companies have" so they could be included when money became available.

Among those who will now benefit are firms like Monitor Products of Brooksville, which makes heat exchangers for large engine manufacturers. The company will get $7,500 toward a $15,000 effort to train workers on brazing metal parts _ similar to welding.

"It does take a while to acquire a skill for brazing," said Rose Fais, who directs human resources for Monitor. He said it could take up to six months before employees' brazing skills are considered "high."

Five other Hernando companies will receive funds. However, the bulk of the Workforce dollars this year _ about $136,000 _ will go to Pasco, which has the most companies participating.

Ellzey credits the growth in participation to the influence of the Pasco Economic Development Council and Hernando County Office of Business Development in informing their members. Economic growth in each county may be another factor.

Among those using the grant this year is Eastern Ribbon & Roll, which recently traded in its headquarters in Pinellas County for new digs in Pasco.

Also taking part is aerospace filter manufacturer Pall Aeropower, which is performing a $4.5-million expansion and consolidating its Clearwater office into its New Port Richey facility. Nestle Waters North America, which owns Zephyrhills Water, will train 50 people with the money. Also included are Optima Technologies, Foiltech, VLOC, Seaway Plastics Engineering and the Creative Institute of Dental Arts.

In Hernando County, government contractor Sparton Electronics is funding two-thirds of the training costs itself. Other companies using the grant are Kinematics & Control, AMBI Pharmaceuticals, ESCO Equipment Supply and Waste Away Systems.