Local job placement program expects additional grant money
by Patrick McCreless
Sep 06, 2013 | 3117 views |  0 comments | 59 59 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wanda Brooks is reflected on a computer screen as she works on finding a job inside the Job Station in the Quintard Mall. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Wanda Brooks is reflected on a computer screen as she works on finding a job inside the Job Station in the Quintard Mall. Photo by Stephen Gross.
After five months of unemployment, Myles Cameron has never been more ready to work.

With the help of the Anniston-based Operation 1st Rate job placement program, the Munford resident will soon get what he wants.

"I feel so good, thank Jesus," Cameron said.

Cameron expects to start his new job at Anniston merchandise distributor Advantage Logistics in a few days. Meanwhile, Operation 1st Rate administrators expect to soon receive more federal money to continue their services through February 2015 — money that has helped 505 area residents find new jobs since the program began two years ago.

Sherri Sumners, who oversees Operation 1st Rate, said the grant looks solid and should receive final approval within two weeks. The Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment has funded the program since it began. Without the new grant, the program's funding would expire in February. Sumners said she did not know how much funding the program could receive, but expected it to be comparable to its previous grants.

The program last received a $740,000 grant.

Sumners said that when Operation 1st Rate started, she did not expect it would still be going strong more than two years later.

“More than 500 placements is a huge milestone for us,” Sumners said. “And the Office of Economic Adjustment has been pleased — that's why they keep funding us.”

Operation 1st Rate began mainly to help workers displaced due to the closing of the Anniston chemical weapons incinerator and due to budget cuts at the Anniston Army Depot. However, the program also offers assistance to unemployed residents who have never worked a federal job. The program's free services include helping build resumes, teaching basic computer skills and providing job hunting assistance.

Sumners said that in addition to maintaining its current services, Operation 1st Rate will be able to hire two more employees to help displaced workers, increasing its total staff to six people.

The area has struggled with unemployment in recent years due in large part to the hundreds of jobs lost at the depot and the incinerator. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the county's unemployment rate in July was 7.8 percent, higher than the state average of 6.3 percent.

The incinerator once employed around 1,000 workers, but today has fewer than than 200. According to Westinghouse Anniston, the company contracted to handle the incinerator, 177 workers were laid off in August.

The depot laid off 371 workers at the end of March due to the drawdown of the Afghanistan war. The depot has about 3,000 workers who repair, modify or upgrade combat vehicles and small arms for the military.

Operation 1st Rate still has 2,104 residents registered for job-hunting assistance, Sumners said.

Still, Sumners said, the 505 residents the program has helped find new jobs earn a total of $12 million in annual salaries. She added that the majority of those jobs are located in the Calhoun County, resulting in a positive economic impact for the area.

Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said that an extra $12 million in a local economy from 500 new jobs would have a positive effect.

"Those people will be spending money at local businesses," Robicheaux said.

Cameron was one of the depot workers who lost his job in March. He had previously worked six years at the facility. Cameron said being unemployed the last few months has been a struggle.

"I had trouble paying my bills, of course," Cameron said.

Cameron said he might still be looking for work were it not for Operation 1st Rate.

"They did an excellent job as far as helping me in my pursuit," Cameron said.

Susan Bridges of Delta, in Clay County, said she started taking advantage of Operation 1st Rate's services a few weeks ago. Bridges, a licensed practical nurse, has been unemployed for two months since she left her job at Koch Foods in Ashland. She said she wants a nursing or human resources job closer to home and that Operation 1st Rate has been helpful so far.

"It's excellent service ... they've been helping me with my resume," Bridges said. "I've been talking with them about how to search for a job ... they're real patient with you."

Residents interested in learning more about Operation 1st Rate's services can visit its office at the Quintard Mall.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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