1. Business

SPC will oversee $15 million federal job training grant to Florida community colleges

St. Petersburg College president Bill Law, left, Brad Jenkins, director of engineering technology, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis look at hands-on technology training during her visit to St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus on Wednesday.
St. Petersburg College president Bill Law, left, Brad Jenkins, director of engineering technology, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis look at hands-on technology training during her visit to St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus on Wednesday.
Published Sep. 20, 2012

St. Petersburg College engineering and technology student Tungo Harris is unemployed but has definite career goals. The U.S. Navy veteran, successfully recovering from a brain tumor, aims to finish his SPC program and seek an engineering degree from the University of South Florida.

"I want to get gainfully employed — and I figure I will be after this — with a decent salary," says Harris, 40, a St. Petersburg resident and graduate of Northeast High School.

In this lackluster economy, that's an ambition of many area folks who are looking for substantial work or to upgrade their manufacturing skills.

This should help. On Wednesday, a $15 million federal grant was announced to help a consortium of 12 Florida community colleges develop and expand innovative training programs in advanced manufacturing.

"Many countries are vying for our technology and expertise," U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis told an enthusiastic crowd gathered at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus, where the school last month opened a new engineering and technology training center. "We are determined to put the United States back where it needs to be."

As a Cabinet member in Barack Obama's administration, Solis dutifully told this swing state audience that the president remains keen on adding jobs. "He will pursue every good idea to put people back to work," she said.

Florida's $15 million grant is part of a nationwide, $2 billion commitment the Department of Labor began doling out last year and will continue funding, $500 million annually, for two more years.

"It's a big deal," says SPC president Bill Law, who sits on the board of directors of the statewide Workforce Florida. "Our goal is to take the Florida college system and see if we can build on some success across the state."

St. Petersburg College will receive just over $6 million of the statewide grant. Some of those funds will cover SPC's role of administering the grant for the consortium and developing an online education component.

About $2.5 million of SPC's portion of the funds will go to developing new courses and purchasing equipment that SPC engineering and technology associate dean Brad Jenkins says will happen with plenty of input from an advisory board of area manufacturers. They include Bovie Medical, Draper Lab, Raytheon and TSE Industries, among other firms that help fashion degree programs and, in turn, hire SPC students as interns and, sometimes, for full-time jobs.

SPC is more accustomed to receiving far more modest grants in the $40,000 range, so this is a major funding leap. The school offers degrees in biomedical systems, electronics, quality control, and digital design and modeling.

Colleges in the consortium include Hillsborough Community College, Pasco-Hernando Community College, Polk State College, Broward College and others in Orlando, South Florida, Jacksonville and along both of the state's coasts.

The Florida consortium's initial grant to the Department of Labor proposed a way to help train, employ and promote over 2,600 students statewide in manufacturing related fields. The colleges won commitments from 38 employers by the time the grant application was submitted. That list has since grown.

In August, SPC opened a 5,000-square-foot facility called the Collaborative Center for Emerging Technologies where hands-on manufacturing training takes place. It's an open room divided into areas for computer-aided design and drafting, electronics, 3-D design and prototyping, clean room techniques and (soon) nanotechnology.

The bulk of students are older with some work experience, says Gregory Lewis, one of the computer-aided design instructors.

If manufacturing seems like small potatoes in a Florida economy seemingly built more on theme parks and nursing homes, guess again. The advanced manufacturing sector supports some 700,000 jobs in the state economy.

In 2010, manufacturing employed 30,000 people in Pinellas County alone. That makes it the fourth-largest industry in the county.

A big deal, indeed.

Contact Robert Trigaux at


  1. Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020. Pictured is a Publix location in the Channelside district last year. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2019)] ["OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020.
  2. After a spike last week, gas prices in the Sunshine State are down slightly. Pictured is the Courtney Campbell Causeway in 20098. [Times file] [CLIFFORD, DOUGLAS R.  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    Low demand and higher gas supply are bringing cheaper gas this week, experts said.
  3. Next month the Pirate Water Taxi will debut a 100-passenger vessel and two smaller taxis as part of an expansion of the company's routes and coverage of Tampa's waterfront. (Yacht StarShip) [Yacht StarShip]
    The service, owned by the operator of Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, is investing $1.6 million in three new vessels and adding a long-desired stop near the Florida Aquarium.
  4. The meat and seafood department at Lucky's Market in St. Petersburg. [Times (2018)]
    After Kroger’s split from Lucky’s, the chain is closing all but one of its Sunshine State stores.
  5. FIE - In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo a ramp worker guides a Delta Air Lines plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. Delta Air Lines says it earned $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter by operating more flights and filling a higher percentage of seats.  The financial results beat Wall Street expectations. Delta and other U.S. airlines are enjoying a prolonged period of profitability thanks to steadily rising demand for travel.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) [TED S. WARREN  |  AP]
    The annual ranking from the Wall Street Journal placed Delta in first place for the third year in a row.
  6. [Getty Images] [[Getty Images]]
    You should look out for your own interests, the advice columnist writes.
  7. Tampa Premium Outlets, 2300 Grand Cypress Drive. The area’s newest outlet is touting the shop tax free weekend and extra savings on top of already reduced prices.
    Deputies are searching for a suspect. There is no public safety threat.
  8. Mike Bishop joins Pasco EDC staff. [Pasco EDC]
    News and notes on Pasco businesses
  9. Hernando County community news [Tara McCarty]
    News and notes on Hernando businesses
  10. A beer is pictured in the outdoor games area of Park & Rec on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Towers of Channelside condo association has filed a lawsuit against the bar, as residents complain about noise.