Tampa Bay has a multitude of strengths to help attract businesses to the region, from its welcoming neighborhoods and strong educational ecosystem, to low taxes and enviable weather. For those tired of the cold and high taxes, this is truly a tropical paradise.
Yet a recent competitiveness study by the Tampa Bay Economic Development Corporation reveals one issue may hold us back: the lack of a long-range talent pipeline. The report notes that while Tampa Bay remains competitive, there are fewer bachelor’s and graduate degree holders in the overall population compared to other markets. This can discourage specialized industries such as research, technology, health and life sciences from relocating or expanding here.
That’s one reason why Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus’ $30 million Workforce Education Center is so critically important. Located at the campus in Ruskin, the center will provide job seekers a single point of access to comprehensive career training programs and support services in Hillsborough County’s fastest-growing region. The development of the center is critical to meet the demand necessitated by the area’s 46% increase in households and climbing enrollment. In fact, HCC SouthShore now boasts a headcount of more than 12,000 students, a 40% increase since 2015.
The Workforce Education Center will also reduce critical instructional space shortages and allow expansion in areas that lead to high-wage careers in health care, business operations, manufacturing, and logistics and advanced technology. These areas of study closely align with the labor market needs of the area’s major employers like Amazon, SouthShore Hospital, and other health care providers.
Students will be able to seamlessly transition within a single location from the application process to training to employment with advisement, career resources and financial aid services all co-located within the center. Beyond helping train a new workforce that is well-prepared to fill jobs in the 21st century economy, the center will also provide high-demand corporate training programs that will allow workers throughout the region to upgrade their skill set.
The design of the facility is both innovative and dynamic, allowing for learning, collaboration and problem-solving. By utilizing simulators, and portable technologies within flexible instructional spaces, the center can be reconfigured to adapt to the changing needs of business and industry. HCC can then use this multi-functional space for local stakeholders, professional development, workforce training opportunities, and public events. The center will also allow the college to continue working with the nonprofit sector as a means of increasing community access to important services like career development, food and nutrition assistance and childcare.
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The Tampa Bay region’s workforce needs this shrewd state investment that will provide new and much needed educational and economic development opportunities in southern Hillsborough County. The center will have a profoundly positive impact by establishing an ongoing talent pipeline, thus ensuring our continued rightful position as a great place to live and to conduct business.
Aakash Patel is a member of the Hillsborough Community College Board of Trustees, former chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and president and founder of Elevate Inc.