Sarasota Chamber Reaffirms Focus on Education and Workforce with Development of Chief Workforce Strategist Position

The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce has announced the hire of Mireya Eavey to fill the newly created role of Chief Workforce Strategist. The hire reaffirms The Chamber’s long-standing strategic posture to support education and workforce development in the community. In her role with The Chamber, Eavey will greatly broaden and expand the organization’s education and workforce support programming.

Mireya 2018 Headshot USE

“This is an exciting and logical extension of the many years of work we, as an organization and community, have invested in,” said Chamber President|CEO Kevin Cooper. “If I could have chosen anyone to further The Chamber’s efforts in this area, it would have been Mireya. I hope our membership and the community-at-large is just as excited as I am.”

Prior to joining The Chamber, Eavey was Sarasota Area President for United Way Suncoast where she provided strategic and operational direction for all Sarasota and DeSoto area United Way community programs. During her tenure with United Way Suncoast, Eavey maintained her service as managing the team of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative. In the capacity of her new position with The Chamber, Eavey will continue her leadership role with CareerEdge, to provide an exceptional labor force to the region’s growing industries by leveraging community assets and forming high-performing workforce partnerships.

Career Edge

Said Mireya Eavey, “I grew up in Sarasota County, raised my family, pursued my career, and have advocated for both workforce and economic improvement for the community. To work in a formal capacity alongside The Chamber team, where I’ll support a thriving workforce community is not only my passion, I feel it is my purpose.”

For more information or questions on the integration of CareerEdge and the addition of Mireya, please contact Kevin Cooper at

Your Chamber Focusing on Education & Workforce

Friday, February 2, was deemed unofficially, “Education & Workforce Day” at The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce as we hosted two separate events both focused on connecting students to the local business community to enlighten young talent of the job opportunities in the area.

Experience Engineering Luncheon

The first event was the 3rd Annual “Experience Engineering Luncheon” at Suncoast Technical College, where 125 high school juniors and seniors met with engineers from 22 local companies to discuss career and educational pathways into engineering. The engineers, ranging in areas of specialty, also brought examples of their company’s products, diagrams, and project plans to help illustrate how they solve problems with engineering.

“We are honored to help connect students with local employers to ensure a pipeline of future workforce talent, particularly in the high demand STEM-related fields,” shared The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce President, Kevin Cooper. “It’s through the power of partnerships with great organizations like CareerEdge and Sarasota County Schools that we are able to foster the next generation of innovators for Sarasota’s future.” Todd Bowden, Superintendent of Sarasota County Schools, advised the students at the beginning of the event, “We want you to be successful in college and in your engineering programs, but we also want you to come back when you graduate. Today is about seeing that there are great engineering careers right here in Sarasota.”

The event was hosted by the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership, CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and Sarasota County Schools Career and Technical Education Program.

USFSM-Chamber Job Shadowing Event

The second event was a pilot program by USF Sarasota-Manatee and The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce to provide students with one-on-one, executive-level job-shadowing experiences with Chamber Board of Directors.

For two hours, 11 USFSM students “shadowed” local executives to learn the intricacies of their businesses, how they evolved through emerging technology, regulations and changing public attitudes, and, generally, what the executives do on a day-to-day basis.

After the session, the students and executives attended a lunch and networking event at The Chamber where the teams shared their views about the experience.

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The idea, according to Jay Riley, director of business development and engagement at USFSM, was to enhance the students’ education while providing “an authentic context” of the workplace.

Chamber President Kevin Cooper said one intention of the shadowing session was to convince students about the Sarasota-Manatee area’s many job opportunities.

“Awareness is a critical pathway to success,” he said. “We want students to be aware of the many opportunities present in Sarasota and employers to be aware of the homegrown talent emerging from our educational institutions.”

Both of these programs are examples of the ways your Chamber is connecting its members to the future workforce. Attracting and retaining talent in Sarasota is key to economic development and reducing the skills gap.

Your Chamber Taking the Lead on Education

Why would a chamber of commerce get involved in helping students get to college?

While it is common practice for school districts, college and universities, and education-focused organizations to participate in chamber membership, increasing postsecondary attainment rates is not typically a role chambers are thought of playing. However, your Chamber has taken a different view.Print

The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce has stepped up to take a leadership role in the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership (T4T); an initiative that focuses on bridging the gap between high school graduation and postsecondary educational attainment. Working in close partnership with organizations like the Barancik Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, UnitedWay Suncoast, and UnidosNow (to name a few), The Chamber has been working over the last year to bring about new, innovative programs that help our local students go beyond high school graduation and into a postsecondary program.

One area Talent4Tomorrow has particularly targeted is FAFSA completion. Financial burdens are often cited as one of the top reasons students do not enroll in a postsecondary program. The FAFSA, or “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”, is a federal form that students must complete to receive Pell grants, most scholarships, and other types of financial aid. However, confusion and lack of awareness around this application process cause many to simply not complete the application. According to the Florida College Access Network, 59 percent of Sarasota students were eligible for Pell Grants in 2012-13, but fewer than half of them filled out FAFSA forms, resulting in more than $2 million left untapped by Sarasota County students. Ultimately, this results in fewer students entering quality educational programs that feed our local workforce needs and causes local businesses to feel the pain of seeking out qualified employees.

However, in the 2015-2016 FAFSA application cycle, the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership orchestrated a multi-faceted strategy to address the need for more students to complete the FAFSA. Thus, Sarasota County was recognized by the Florida FAFSA Challenge with awards in eight categories. Even more impressively, these efforts resulted in an additional $283,000 in Pell Grant funds being accessed by Sarasota County students. With those additional funds, many more students have been able to attend technical/trade schools, two-year degree programs, and traditional Bachelors programs. For our Chamber members, this equates to more skilled workers ready to take on important jobs for their companies.

Efforts of Talent4Tomorrow have not gone unnoticed by those around the state and the nation. Recently, T4T partners collected $62,500 in matching funds to procure a $50,000 grant from the Florida Philanthropic Network. With these grant dollars, T4T can begin to work on other barriers to postsecondary enrollment and attainment, such as college and career awareness. The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a part of this initiative, bringing the education and business communities together to help students see themselves not only in our colleges and universities but also as professionals that contribute to the future of Sarasota County.

Submission contributed by Mimi Cirbusova, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Group Coordinator.

Reach Higher Convening Recap

“The ultimate outcome of education is not a diploma. It’s a great job and life.”

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director, Education & Workforce Development, Gallup

It’s often been said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Just as true: you don’t know what you’ve got until you see what someone else has. Last week, GSCC staff members were part of a small delegation to represent Florida at First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” convening in Colorado. This conference focused on preparing students with work ready skills. Presenters, ranging from corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies to the President of the Education Commission of the United States, discussed the growing national need for education policies around work readiness for all students.

Much of the conversation revolved around the critical need for talented, engaged, and well-supported school counselors. Nationally, more than 20% of high schools lack any school counselor, and over 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor (Dr. Joyce V. Brown, National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success). Reflection from these presentations highlighted the great resource guidance counselors are for our own community. In Sarasota County, our students are fortunate to school guidance counseling staff at every school K-12. Our local guidance counselors have been the key to our Talent4Tomorrow Partnership efforts in increasing FAFSA completion, and expanding awareness of financial opportunities for post-secondary education.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) was another primary area of focus of several presenters and panelists, including an informative site visit to Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus in Colorado Springs District 11. Departments of Education around the country are seeking opportunities to partner with companies to align CTE programs at the high school and postsecondary levels to workforce needs. Ensuring that students are aware of these opportunities is a key component of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015 as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Locally, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Talent4Tomorrow Partnership has placed career awareness at the forefront of its programmatic work. Recently, Talent4Tomorrow gathered 84 of Sarasota County’s brightest students for an “Experience Engineering” luncheon. Students engaged in roundtable discussions with 31 engineers from 14 local companies about the many engineering opportunities available in the greater Sarasota community, the diversity of specialties within that field, and tips for gaining the most of their time while in college.

Internships and hands-on career opportunities was also a strong theme. During a panel presentation, Noel Ginsburg, Chairman and CEO of Intertech Plastics, spoke of the 2.6% youth unemployment in Switzerland due to apprenticeship programs and the economic benefit to companies that invest in these opportunities, including lower long-term training costs. Carl A. Marchetto, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin, also discussed the need for a stronger infrastructure for smaller companies to “plug and play” in experiential opportunities for students. However, Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development for Gallup, shared that only 4.6% of students in grades 5th-12th are interning for a local business. With little hands-on experience, how is a student to discern whether a career path is right for them? And without the confidence of an internship to guide their career pathway, how can students feel comfortable taking on massive debts to pursue a degree in a particular field? Again, Sarasota County boasts strong relationships between business, schools, and universities that allow students to gain those hands on experiences. Whether it be at the annual State of Jobs conference for high school (and soon, middle school) students, or internships with incredible organizations such as PGT, Sun Hydraulics, FCCI Insurance and Mote Marine Laboratories (to name a few), there are many exciting ways for local students to gain real-world knowledge of career pathways. Career exploration continues to expand within the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership’s Local College Access Network, and a community asset map focused on internships is in the final data-gathering stages.

During the long flight home, it was easy to think about the incredible community we have in Sarasota. Though we learned so much from Colorado, and well as the other 48 states present at the “Reach Higher” convening, it is safe to say that Sarasota is making enviable strides towards preparing our students to be ready for the 21st century workplace.

LEAP to Louisville: a Recent Inter-County Visit with Local Leaders

Bridge 1In late-September, 35 community leaders traveled to Louisville, Kentucky as part of the Leadership Expedition to Accelerate Progress (LEAP). The trip, hosted by The Chamber’s Sarasota Tomorrow Initiative in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, serves as an opportunity for area leadership to learn more about the successes of peer and aspirational communities that might be emulated locally. As in years past, the Sarasota delegation included elected officials, City/County staff, local for-profit and non-profit CEOs, key education leadership, and other key civic and business stakeholders.

Insights gained from past trips have helped local groups collaborate to create the successful Precision Machining program at Suncoast Technical College, explore new public art efforts, launch the Talent4Tomorrow initiative to improve our region’s educational attainment and workforce development outcomes and create the Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 effort to maximize that key area of our community.

In the sixth iteration of the inter-city best practice visit concept, Louisville was selected for the strides made in education & workforce development, waterfront reimagining, targeted cluster incubation and acceleration, place making, and tourism branding. While its economic output, unique assets, and population make the area more of an aspirational city, as opposed to a peer community, these types of areas still offer insight to numerous themes that could be adjusted to fit Sarasota’s local scale. Continue reading “LEAP to Louisville: a Recent Inter-County Visit with Local Leaders”