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Hillsborough business recovery task focusing on hard-hit workers

The goal was to suggest ways to spent some of the tens of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding allocated to the county.

TAMPA — To get the local economy back up to speed, Hillsborough County officials should focus on helping displaced workers and businesses in need, a public-private task force recommended Friday.

The 75-member Economic Recovery Task Force started work a month ago at the request of Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa.

“The quickest way to get our economy humming again is to make sure that our dislocated workers are provided for and to make sure that businesses are prepared to re-open safely when they can," said Craig Richard, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, which coordinated the effort.

Tampa Bay Economic Development Council president and chief executive officer Craig Richard DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Tampa Bay Economic Development Council president and chief executive officer Craig Richard DIRK SHADD | Times

Hillsborough County has been allocated $256.8 million from the federal CARES Act pandemic relief package. In early May, the County Commission allotted $25 million to CareerSource Tampa Bay to start workforce training programs.

Related: Hillsborough begins allocating U.S. coronavirus aid

County officials also have said they expect to spend:

• $30 million to $60 million on workforce training, which the task force recommended be provided by educational institutions through short-term, industry-recognized programs.

• $15 million to $35 million in back-to-work grants to provide employers with incentives to rehire or fill new jobs with workers displaced by the pandemic.

• $50 million to $85 million on efforts to accelerate business recovery through access to capital. This is meant to meet the needs of businesses not helped by state or federal programs.

“Capital and financial assistance with fewer strings and regulations are urgently needed for businesses that have been severely impacted,” the task force said.

This form of aid could include matching funds and grants for programs aimed to restart businesses, support hiring and help employers meet health and safety guidelines. Officials also should think about providing bridge loans, payroll loans, tax relief and lines of credit or other forms of debt relief, the task force said.

With unemployment in Hillsborough poised to hit an estimated 15½ percent, the task force recommended identifying as many as 40,000 workers who might not have the chance to return to jobs in tourism, hospitality, retail or the arts for 18 months or more.

As an alternative, local officials should try to find those workers opportunities in more healthy sectors like business support centers, health care, information technology, skilled trades, manufacturing and logistics and transportation.

On-the-job training and paid work experience initiatives should be supported by training plans tailored to each worker, plus direct payments to workers or wage reimbursement for at least 90 days of employment, the task force recommended.

It also advocated supporting pandemic-stricken workers with up to $2,500 in support for necessities such as day care reimbursement, necessary technology and work clothing, mileage reimbursements, car insurance and repair assistance and payment of certification and licensing fees.

“As a road map, I believe that the group covered our economic recovery very well,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said. But “as we delve into this and as we start to stand back up economically, there will be other initiatives, other programs that may not have been specifically listed that will float to the surface.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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