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Owens hosts meeting to seek unemployment solutions

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CANTON — Ideas on how to lower the north country’s unemployment rate and fill about 3,200 vacant jobs in the district represented by U.S. Rep. William L. Owens were the focus of a business roundtable discussion Friday at St. Lawrence University.

Ideas included sharing information to make employers aware of effective programs, on-the-job training, speed dating-style interview sessions and letting high school students know what is available regionally.

Most of the vacant jobs are in health care and manufacturing.

“I do think there are many people locally who can fill the needs,” Mr. Owens said.

Roughly two dozen business and government leaders discussed the issues for about two hours in the second of the congressman’s “unfilled jobs” roundtable talks. The first was primarily for work force investment boards.

The process helps show where the gaps are so that his office can formulate programs that can help the situation, Mr. Owens said.

The discussion also showed a lack of knowledge among participants about what their neighbors are doing, so his office will work toward linking people, he said.

“Clearly, we’d like you to stay in touch with us,” Mr. Owens told participants. “Probably just sitting together you heard some different things.”

CITEC Executive Director William P. Murray said funding for public programs has been cut, so employers need to help themselves find ways to fill their job vacancies.

“The best short-term solution is sharing what’s out there today,” he said.

Filling health-care jobs from certified nursing assistants to mid-level managers and physicians was a common problem.

“It’s becoming more critical with hospitals all the time,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s a challenge at all levels.”

One success story was Fort Drum’s Transition Assistance Program, which helps soldiers find jobs when they leave the military. Programs like that could be expanded, Mr. Murray said.

Other problems identified by employers included a lack of training, long distances to overcome and day-care needs, some of which could be helped by more training via the Internet, Mr. Owens said.

Reimporting talent also could be enhanced.

SLU, for example, has an ongoing program to have its alumni move back, said Benjamin R. Dixon, the school’s regional development and sustainability coordinator. It is also working on incentives to keep graduating seniors in the area for a year or two.

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