By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Fewer folks are darkening the doors at local One-Stop Employment Centers.
At the Volusia County Council's last regular meeting Aug. 23, Rick Fraser, president of the Center for Business Excellence of Volusia/Flagler, said an improving employment market has fewer job hunters heading to the centers. The CBE runs the One-Stop centers in Volusia and Flagler counties.
"The number of people going to the One-Stops has steadily decreased, and that's a good thing," he told the council.
The CBE gets funding from the state and federal governments, but the county oversees its budget and operations. During the meeting, the county council approved its requested 2012-2013 budget, $10,726,000.
Mr. Fraser told the council that in the first quarter of the 2011-12 fiscal year - July to September last year - about 20,320 visitors went to the three One-Stop centers in Daytona Beach, Orange City and Palm Coast. In the last quarter - April to June this year - that dropped to about 8,500 visitors.
Those visitors were using a number of services, from attending classes to sending faxes. A single person can be counted as a "visitor" multiple times.
The drop in visitors continues a trend in recent years. According to the CBE's 2011 annual report, which covered July 2010 to June 2011, about 31,300 unemployed people sought services at the local One-Stop Employment centers. However, slightly more than 45,600 unemployed people sought job-hunting help the previous fiscal year.
In an interview, Lou Paris, communications manager, said at the beginning of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Volusia's unemployment rate was 11 percent. By the end of the fiscal year, it dropped to 9.1 percent. Mr. Paris said while dropping unemployment rates have meant fewer folks needed services at One-Stop centers, there are other reasons.
One reason, he said, is greater use of Internet technology that lets people use One-Stop services without having to go to them. For example, some of the One-Stop classes have become webinars, too. This lets some class attendees stay at home, so they're not counted as visiting the center.
"There is a course we offer called Next Step to Success," Mr. Paris said. "Think of it as a gateway to all we offer. We created the online version, and that has 1,800 unique visitors, 1,812 actually."
He said there's also anecdotal evidence that job hunters are again finding other means to seek employment rather than visiting the One-Stop centers.
"You don't come through our doors unless you have no other options," he said. "Your initial reaction (to unemployment) is to handle the situation on your own.
The CBE is joining the Business Advocacy and Self-Employment Consortium's Startup Quest. FloridaWorks, the workforce investment board in Alacuha and Bradford counties, started the regional program with a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Startup Quest provides entrepreneurial training, technical assistance and business mentoring to unemployed degreed professionals who've opted to start businesses.
John Wanamaker, board chair of the CBE, said many details of the new program are being developed, but the aim is straightforward.
"They're helping people who would like to start their own businesses," Mr. Wanamaker said. "They've got the talent, but have always worked for someone else."
The CBE is one of 24 workforce investment boards that operate under the new Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which replaced the Agency for Workforce Innovation last year.