Workforce development professionals meet in Bay County to discuss workforce recovery after a disaster

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Workforce development professionals from all over the country met in Bay County on Thursday to learn from each other and the disasters they’ve faced in when it comes to rebuilding the workforce after a catastrophe, like Hurricane Michael.

“Because of housing, it’s difficult for us to recruit people in,” said Kim Bodine, Executive Director of CareerSource Gulf Coast. “We want to learn from others who have been in the same situation. What kinds of programs did they offer, what innovative things did they do with employers?”

The workshop gave National Association of Workforce Boards participants the chance to discuss ideas with each other and ask questions to hear about first-hand disaster experiences and how they were managed from a workforce point of view.

Representatives from areas like Mobile, Alabama, Houston, Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico were there, along with dozens of others.

“We have the same issues, lack of housing,” said Jardany Diaz, a city planner for the municipality of Luquillo in Puerto Rico. 

Diaz said attracting workers back to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Maria and Irma has meant building stronger infrastructure. 

“People just want to be safe,” Diaz said. “People want the school system running, and they want their jobs to try to be as reliable and as steady as they’re supposed to be.”

In Houston, after disasters like Hurricanes Ike and Harvey as well as flooding issues, Mark Guthrie, Chair of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, said recovering the workforce quickly may require providing housing in whatever ways possible.

“After Ike we had a lot of FEMA trailers that were parked in people’s driveways,” Guthrie said. “House in hotels or whatever you have available.”

Bodine said the advice is welcomed.

“We know there are people here who have been through this,” she said. “If there’s any shortcuts that we can find to the resiliency, we hope to glean that information from our partners across the nation.”

Many of the attendees were also able to tour the area on Wednesday, giving them the chance to see the aftermath of Michael first-hand as well as talk to local businesses about the issues they continue to face.

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