Business

Revamped downtown Macon Goodwill center expected to serve 7,500 annually

Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia is returning to its Broadway building in downtown Macon and expanding the community and educational programs it offers.

The 26,000-square-foot building at 240 Broadway, which will become the downtown Macon Helms Campus, will include a bilingual one-stop Helms Career Center for job seekers and eventually a new Helms School for Industrial Trades, Goodwill President and CEO Jim Stiff said. Also, it will include a point of access to co-located community and workforce development partners.

“It’s probably about a $2.5 million project by the time we are finished with all the different phases of it,” Stiff said.

The downtown center will officially open Wednesday following a 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We think this center is going to serve more people than any of our job centers, and we have 11 job centers in our territory,” which includes 35 counties, Stiff said. “We calculate there will be probably 7,500 individuals that will use this center once we are up and fully running. ... We are estimating about 800 unemployed people placed into career paths per year out of this center. So it’s going to create a lot of human and economic energy in downtown Macon.”

The building has been vacant since Goodwill moved out about 10 years ago when its services were relocated to its facility on Eisenhower Parkway. But since then Goodwill’s educational programs have expanded.

“We have run out of space at the Eisenhower campus for the Helms College,” Stiff said.

Another reason to move the Job Connection and to offer some other services downtown is “the majority of people who are coming out to the Eisenhower campus are taking public transportation from downtown. ... It’s a lot more logical to actually move all those programs closer to the people who need them.”

Once the downtown location opens, Goodwill will be able to expand the student population and support services for students at the Eisenhower campus, he said. Long-term plans are to grow Goodwill’s culinary arts program and add more culinary labs at that facility.

ONE-STOP SHOP FOR CAREER SERVICES

The Peyton Anderson Foundation donated $250,000 and Goodwill put in another $100,000 toward renovating the Broadway building, and the work started at the end of August, Stiff said.

The first floor was rehabbed and updated with new office spaces. The second floor was painted, new flooring installed and two bathrooms were built. Also, the elevator was updated, and a new heating, ventilating and air-conditioning unit was installed on the roof.

“So we were able to do a lot of things for that amount of money,” Stiff said.

Karen Lambert, president of the Peyton Anderson Foundation, said in an email that Goodwill’s “history of doing effective work in training and providing work experience” for people looking to enter or re-enter the workforce is important.

“The foundation believes that supporting their strategies in Job Connection will strengthen the community economically and provide a service that is often not readily available for many unemployed people,” Lambert said.

Besides workforce services, Goodwill will provide space at the downtown center for partners such as Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, the Job Corps, Macon Reentry Coalition and the Family Counseling Center, Stiff said. Some of these services will be offered on a rotating schedule at the center and some may have a full-time presence.

The partner organizations will be getting settled in on a varying schedule through December, Stiff said.

“So we will have a full blown one-stop by the first week of January in terms of the workforce career services one-stop,” he said.

The next phase is to get money for the Helms School of Industrial Trades and for the center for computer education. New computers and new programs will be required to help students become computer literate.

SHORTAGE OF CONSTRUCTION WORKERS SHOWS TRAINING NEEDED

Goodwill began surveying all major contractors in Bibb County “because we kept hearing people say we are going to have to bring in workers from out of town” for construction projects, Stiff said.

General contractor Chris Sheridan, president of Chris R. Sheridan & Co., said he was approached by Goodwill about what skills are needed.

“We are very much encouraged ... because we do have a serious workforce issue,” Sheridan said. “Goodwill does such a good job in the whole area of education and putting people to work. They are just a natural to partner with as far as training future construction workers.”

Sheridan said having the technical skills is just one component of having a qualified worker.

“They also need to learn what’s expected of them on the job and good work ethic,” he said. “I think that’s an area that Goodwill sort of excels at.”

Once the survey shows what the top trade needs are -- such as masonry or carpentry -- then those training programs will be developed, Stiff said.

“We are trying to look for small contractors that we can actually buy out of their business,” he said.

For example, if a small masonry business is doing great work for several contractors but doesn’t have a capacity to increase business because it doesn’t have the skilled labor, “we could help them by having them become part of Goodwill’s organization,” he said.

“We could help them grow their masonry business to have more capacity, and the students in the masonry class will be able to go out and have an applied apprentice, working with that person who now works for Goodwill.”

And the students could move into long-term employment.

Stiff said the fundraising effort for the trade school would include asking contractors to make an investment as well as local foundations.

“I would be very disappointed if we didn’t have at least two skills training programs going full blast by next August,” Stiff said. “But it could happen lot sooner than that if interested philanthropical parties step up and embrace the opportunity.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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