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Jamaica center attracts leaders

More than two dozen domestic and international city officials got a firsthand look at Jamaica’s Workforce One Center as they shared ideas on how to create jobs and economic development in a global economic recession.

The tour of Jamaica’s Workforce One Center was part of a two-day summit hosted by City Global Partners and Columbia University. The summit brought together delegates from 28 cities, both domestically and internationally.

“What has been interesting is how the challenges people are facing are so common,” said Angie Kamath, deputy commissioner of workforce development at the city Small Business Services Department. “But at the same time, there are things we learned from others about progress they’re making in how they approach these problems.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the opening of the event at Columbia University and spoke about the merits of the city’s effort to bolster public and private partnerships through job centers like Workforce One.

“We’ve put workforce development at the heart of our strategy for spurring New York’s recovery from the recession,” Bloomberg said. “We are confident that our Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan will fuel a strong economic recovery, but in the short term, the pain created by this recession is very real. That’s why the exchange of information and ideas at this summit is so helpful.”

While partnering job centers and colleges with private companies has been pushed by Bloomberg for several years, the concept was new to some delegates in attendance.

“The way that they do things here is really very different,” said Kuma Demeksa Tokon, mayor of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. “In Africa, when somebody graduates from community college, they are left to freelance and find jobs on their own accord. The city doesn’t concern itself with them. But here the schools try to align with the city government, which is really wonderful.”

Linnet Mirehane Odago, a member of the Nairobi City Council in Kenya, said the summit opened up a wealth of possibilities.

“When we go back, we’ll hopefully be able to use some of these things, these strategies,” she said.

Paula Bailey, director of the Workforce One Center in Jamaica, said the delegates’ willingness to learn and share their problems was uplifting.

“Everybody seemed to be very open,” Bailey said. “People weren’t here to get a free trip. That, was clear. People were here to learn.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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