CLAXTON — Job Training Unlimited Inc., a Claxton-based company that provides job readiness services funded under the federal Workforce Investment Act in 17 Georgia counties, moved its offices this summer into a county-owned building previously used by Ogeechee Technical College.
Like JTU's previous headquarters, the building is on U.S. Highway 301 in Claxton. But unlike the old location, a former hotel with limited parking south of the center of town, JTU's handsome new digs are north of the tracks and only a shade more than 10 years old.
"It works great for us. I mean, it's got good parking. It's got easy access," said Keith Dixon, Workforce Investment Act director with JTU.
Many Claxton residents whom JTU serves are within walking distance of the building, an official "One Stop" for job seekers, he added. Five computers in the lobby are free for anyone to use for a job search, and JTU staff members can offer guidance on writing a resume. The conference room, Dixon said, will be available for new employers coming to Evans County to use for job interviews, and JTU can also assist by receiving the applications. Other local organizations, such as the Claxton-Evans County Chamber of Commerce, will have free use of the conference room, he said.
But JTU has turned several classrooms into offices, some with cubicles for multiple staff members. Of the company's total regional staff of about 31 people, 28 are based in the Claxton building, Dixon said, although most travel to other counties some days each week to operate One Stops or provide specific services.
Opened in 2002 as OTC's Evans County Workforce Development Center, the building with a brick exterior, an industrial loading bay in back and a side patio with picnic tables was built under a federal Community Development Block Grant. The grant's rules and the fact that JTU is engaged in job-specific education for low-income citizens explain why a for-profit government contractor is using a county-owned building rent-free, according to Evans County officials.
Dixon's mother, Reba Van Meter, founded Job Training Unlimited in 1995 and remains its executive director. JTU provides services under contract with the Heart of Georgia Regional Commission, based at Eastman, and answers to both the Regional Commission board and a Workforce Investment Act board with members from all 17 counties.
JTU provides on-the-job training, youth services and individual training accounts primarily in Appling, Candler, Emanuel, Evans, Jeff Davis, Tattnall, Toombs and Wayne counties. It contracts with a Regional Educational Services Agency that helps serve the other nine counties of the region.
With federal grant dollars, the on-the-job training program pays part of the wages for new hires during their first few weeks while they learn specific skills. The year-round youth services program gives disadvantaged youth, ages 14-21, lessons in work ethics, time management and communication skills and places them in work experiences. Adults with individual training accounts can qualify for help with transportation and child care while taking college courses needed to get jobs.
Employers can obtain youth program job seekers for short-term trial employment free of cost, with grant money paying their wages, Dixon said. JTU provides another free service to area businesses by transcribing employment ads from newspapers to its online job database, he noted.
Bulloch County is not in JTU's region. But the firm lists Bulloch jobs on its database and has placed workers in on-the-job training with Statesboro industries.
"We actually have some employers out of Bulloch County that we serve because we have people that live in Evans, Candler, Tattnall and Emanuel that drive to Bulloch County to work," Dixon said.
Ogeechee Technical College had used the Claxton building for GED courses and its police academy. But a larger OTC facility, owned by the state rather than the county, opened in Hagan as home of the truck driving school in 2009, and the college consolidated its Evans County programs to that campus in summer 2012.
That left the county-owned building empty, but the 2001 grant required that it be used for education for low-income residents for 20 years. If the county had violated that condition with seven years remaining, it would have had to repay a prorated share of more than $200,000, said Evans County Administrator Casey Burkhalter.
Other possible new occupants were considered, including the Chamber of Commerce, but did not qualify, Burkhalter said. But JTU did, and the Regional Commission modified the grant.
No rent is being charged because the county is prohibited from profiting from the grant, Burkhalter said.
"Our agreement is, they handle all the maintenance and anything that is involved in that," he said. "If anything tears up, they fix it, they replace it, because it is rent-free."
JTU has replaced one air-conditioning unit, painted the interior, and added new DSL connections, Dixon said. The arrangement is year-to-year, but JTU hopes to stay at least 10 years, or as long as the county allows, he said.
Burkhalter and Evans County Commission Chairman Del Beasley also said they didn't want to lose JTU and its jobs to another county. Dixon had let them know he was looking for a new location.
"It think it's a great fit," Beasley said. "Several local businesses use Job Training Unlimited to get temporary help, beginning help, so it's good for the community."