SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners delayed a decision to create a new economic development position, citing a need for more information.
The commissioners last week were presented with a request for a new economic development position that would target workforce issues in the county. Without information regarding the position’s financial impact, however, they opted to table their decision.
“There’s enough concern up here that we would like to get these numbers…,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Tom Perlozzo, the county’s director of recreation, parks, tourism and economic development, told the commissioners he was proposing a new position to allow for a more proactive approach to local workforce problems. He said the towns and even Worcester County itself struggled to fill certain positions.
Perlozzo added that he was proposing an operational change and that the new position wouldn’t require additional funds, as the department was reducing the amount of money it spent on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, which were limited in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“I feel this position can attack all the workforce problems and can grow our workforce within and fill Worcester County jobs as well,” he said.
Commissioner Diana Purnell questioned the reduction in STEM funding.
“We’ve operated STEM on a contractual basis,” Perlozzo said. “What I’m going to say is we’re going to move that back in house.”
Purnell said Perlozzo had indicated that the new position would help fill the county’s job vacancies as well. She said that sounded like something the county’s human resources department would do.
Perlozzo said the county was having trouble finding skilled trade workers which is why he wanted to focus on STAT (Skilled Trades, Agriculture and Tourism).
“How do we get our kids to stay within the county and live and work versus going to some other area,” Perlozzo said. “That’s why Worcester County jobs are mentioned. As we move the STAT program along I think it definitely will help us be more competitive in attracting a quality workforce to work and live and play here in Worcester County.”
Perlozzo said for the past several years the county had been focused solely on STEM and he wanted to expand beyond that so Worcester County Economic Development could be more of a resource.
“It’s about networking, it’s about meeting the people, finding out what their needs are,” he said.
He added that there were 12,000 seasonal jobs in Worcester County and usually only 4,000 J-1 workers.
“So there is a void and look if I can take one of our homegrown kids, or adults, and provide them with employment to keep them here and make us more attractive, I think that’s a great start for us,” he said.
Purnell pointed out that many of the jobs in Worcester County were seasonal.
“Then if we’re looking for something to retain young people they need something that’s going to give them year-round employment,” she said. “They need potential year-round jobs. Right now that’s a problem anywhere you go.”
Other commissioners said they wanted to see more financial information regarding the proposed new position.
“There’s nothing here that talks about what would be left toward STEM, how you’re going to handle it,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “I need to see more.”
Perlozzo said the county had been spending about $110,000 a year on STEM, with about $70,000 of that going to the contractor handling the program. Bunting said information like that was what he wanted to see in the commissioners’ packet.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he too wanted more information.
“The problem I have is you’re asking for another position and there’s no pay scale here,” he said. “I don’t have enough information to support any of this yet.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino echoed those concerns but also questioned Perlozzo’s plan to fill vacant county positions.
“Why do we need another person to do this?” he said. “I don’t know because I don’t have enough information here to make a decision.”
Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins told the commissioners he’d asked Perlozzo and the county’s human resources department to begin exploring ways to fill often vacant county positions, such as those in wastewater.
“It’s a statewide need that’s not being filled,” he said.
The commissioners agreed to table the request and have Perlozzo return with more information.