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Council wants local hiring increased

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / February 16, 1998

CONVENT – The St. James Parish Council launched a plan for an economicdevelopment task force Wednesday at a special meeting, the aim being to increase local hiring and help the chronically unemployed.

The matter was brought to a head by Parish Council members who don’t feel state-granted Enterprise Zones, which aim at tax breaks in exchange for local hiring, do the job they were meant to do.

District 6 Parish Councilman Elton Aubert, who asked for the special meeting, observed: “I don’t think Enterprise Zones serve the needs of the communities they were designed to serve.”The stated goals of the task force are to help local citizens get and keep jobs, attract more industry and keep high school graduates in the area.

With those goals, representatives are contemplated from the Parish Council, St. James School Board, Economic Development Board, Parishadministration and others.

Parish President Dale Hymel Jr. suggested a few representatives from theparish’s 17-member Economic Development Board to help come up with ideas.

Aubert also said more job training is needed and as are more labor- intensive industries requiring minimal training.

District 3 Parish Councilman Eric Poche added, “We have good workers who can’t qualify for the high-tech jobs.”District 2 Parish Council Timothy Roussel suggested attention be paid as well to the problem of transportation for workers unable to reach work.

The Parish Council discussed possibly conducting a census of local industry as to where their workers come from, as well as ask industry to submit home addresses of new-hires as a check on local hiring rate.

“That way, we can get a truer picture,” District 1 Parish Councilman Elwyn Bocz said.

St. James Parish’s population, according to May 1997 figures supplied bythe Louisiana Department of Labor, is 21,652. That includes 10,823 white,10,829 minority, and 5,521 living at poverty level. Those impoverishedinclude 3,699 minority and 1,822 white.

One of the other great problems in local hiring, as outlined by recent problems experienced by American Iron Reduction, Bocz continued, is drug use in the community. “We also have to have an effort on drug education,”he said.

District 4 Parish Councilman Ralph Patin Jr. said he dropped in at an A.I.R.training session for newly-hired employees and saw only three minority workers there. “They can do better than that,” Patin commented.One suggestion made by Roussel was to link a stipulation to Enterprise Zone resolutions asking for a percentage of new hires to come from the councilmanic district where they are located.

“I don’t think you can do that,” observed Greg Roussel of South Central Planning. “I think you’d have a hard time adding that stipulation.”At present, state-approved Enterprise Zones contract to hire 35 percent of their new employees from the parish affected.

Bocz continued the parish also needs a more accurate picture of the number of unemployed. He noted people will collect unemploymentbenefits, drop off the rolls and remain unemployed and uncounted in unemployment figures.

“We need the Job Bank to go out and find these unemployed,” Bocz noted.

The proposed task force would focus on community problems such as high school dropout rates, adolescent counseling, transportation, drug use and vagrancy. Other social needs include child care costs, tuition fees and on-the-job training.

Hymel observed that at least half of those listed in the St. James Job Bankare under-employed, seeking improved positions. Not enough of theunemployed are even aware of the Job Bank, which keeps a list of people seeking work for the benefit of industry.

District 7 Parish Councilman Jimmy Brazan urged getting local clergy involved in documenting the chronically unemployed. “They’re out in thecommunity. They know who’s working and who’s not.”

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