Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Rural Florida community makes dramatic changes to prep for a new airport; an opportunity to 'move the needle'

Becoming home base for a major airport hub takes
monumental community efforts. (Adobe Stock photo)
When your community is surrounded by swamps and has low education levels, opportunities to gain infrastructure dollars don't come often, which is why rural Hendry County, Florida, is taking on the challenge of proving it can provide for the new "Airglades" airport," reports Nick Fouriezos of Open Campus. "The $300 million cargo hub could transform [the county] economy. . . . Local leaders see the project as a generational opportunity that could bring more than 1,400 new high-skilled jobs to their largely agricultural community at the edge of the Everglades." 

To reach their labor goals, Hendry community developers must educate and train their workforce to meet a dynamic shift in educational and labor needs. Getting that done is daunting. Fouriezos explains, "A third of Hendry County’s working-age adults lack a high-school diploma. And almost half speak a language other than English at home. Educators must first help them earn their GEDs and learn English."

The area must also work through logistics to transform its small private airport into a major U.S.-Latin America trading zone.

Location of Hendry County
(Adobe Stock map)
With help from the FutureMakers Coalition, a community organization that spearheads education retraining efforts, the county has opened two adult education centers. Fouriezos reports, "Spanish-speaking students have filled the adult education center in LaBelle, the 5,000-person county seat. . . . Even before the airport arrives, there are still plenty of local employers waiting to hire the students."

Part of the challenge of providing all the training and teaching was finding teachers. Michael Swindle, the county schools superintendent, "had to recruit a U.S. sugar worker to teach welding and coaxed a school bus mechanic out of retirement to lead the diesel mechanics program," Fouriezos adds. "Still, the program has been so successful the county is using tuition revenue and donations to open another training facility in LaBelle focused on HVAC and plumbing."

Swindle told Fouriezos: "We’re not just talking about an airport. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to move the needle on unemployment, on poverty, to a better place.”

No comments: