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Foodlink, others receive grants for workforce development

Foodlink Inc. will receive nearly $1 million to support its Career Fellowship, a one-of-a-kind culinary training program that creates pathways to prosperity for individuals with barriers to sustainable employment.

New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was in town Monday to celebrate the funding and announce multiple grant award winners from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Workforce Development Initiative.

“Putting people first is central to our mission,” said Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco. “The Foodlink Career Fellowship epitomizes our belief that our role as an organization extends well beyond food banking. We nourish thousands of people on a daily basis, but also create opportunities for individuals to be empowered with the skills they need for a healthier future. We’re forever grateful that the state has recognized the potential of this innovative program to spur economic development and transform lives in our communities.”

The fellowship was started in 2018 to train individuals for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. Fellows are nominated into the program, and progress through a yearlong curriculum that includes both classroom and hands-on training within Foodlink’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, where they help prepare after-school and summer meals for Rochester students.

Eight members of the inaugural graduating class secured full-time employment in 2019, while seven current members of the Fellowship are more than halfway through the program.

The state’s Workforce Development Initiative is investing $175 million in job training projects. Awarded projects support strategic regional efforts that meet businesses’ short-term workforce needs, long-term industry needs, improve regional talent pipelines, enhance the flexibility and adaptability of local workforce entities and expand workplace learning opportunities.

Other grantees include Baxter, Genesee Construction Service, Graham Corp., Lifetime Assistance, Mary Cariola Children’s Center, McAlpin Industries, Optimax, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Prestolite and Wayne Finger Lakes BOCES.

“The number one issue I hear from employers across the state is that they can’t find workers with the skills they need for 21st-century jobs,” Hochul said. “That is why we are investing $3.1 million in job training programs spearheaded by nearly 70 upstate New York businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations that will benefit 3,600 New Yorkers as part of our historic $175 million Workforce Development Initiative.

“The nearly $1 million in funding for Foodlink will expand the organization’s culinary training program and create more opportunities for individuals in the food industry. The investment is part of our overall efforts to close the skills gap and prepare New Yorkers for jobs today and in the future,” she added.

Foodlink has guided one class through the program in each of the first two years since its launch, however, it has committed to hosting two classes of approximately 15 participants each in the year ahead thanks to the state’s investment. Foodlink’s staff will begin to recruit soon for the launch of the third class in July. A fourth class would begin six months later in January of 2021, officials noted.

Foodlink launched the program with help from Wegmans Food Markets Inc., and through private funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, ESL Charitable Foundation and the William and Sheila Konar Foundation, which also funded the launch of the second class in 2019. The program includes nine months of training at Foodlink and three months of an externship at a regional employer.

“Before arriving at Foodlink, I wasn’t reaching my true potential,” said Da’Quan Quick, who was a member of the Foodlink Career Fellowship’s inaugural graduating class. “The Fellowship made me believe in myself, and gave me the skills I needed to launch a career.”

As a registered apprenticeship, several local employers have partnered with Foodlink as potential landing spots for program graduates. Many of the 2019 graduates moved into full-time roles at Wegmans stores and restaurants in the Rochester area. The Kelaron Group, which includes restaurants such as Salena’s Mexican Restaurant and Nox, Rochester Institute of Technology and the Del Monte Hotel Group, are collaborating with Foodlink, as well.

Foodlink was awarded funding through the WDI’s Pay for Success program, which focuses on training opportunities for underserved and underemployed populations.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Optimax to expand facility, add 59 jobs

optimaxOptimax Systems Inc. plans to expand its Wayne County facility with a 60,000-square-foot addition.

The $21.7 million expansion will allow Optimax to raise the bar when it comes to supplying optics for its customers and will help the company solidify its brand and credibility in the worldwide optics manufacturing community, officials said Tuesday. As a result of its continued growth, Optimax plans to create 59 new jobs over the next five years and retain 291 positions.

The expansion project is expected to be completed in 2024.

To encourage Optimax to expand in the Finger Lakes, Empire State Development will provide $700,000 through a Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative Grant and up to $1.5 million in Excelsior Tax Credits in return for job creation commitments and retention of hundreds of existing jobs.

“New York State’s strategic investments have supported the Finger Lakes Region’s growth as an optics, photonics and imaging hub, and our commitment to workforce development and 21st century jobs means that companies like Optimax Systems can continue to grow here, with a pipeline to the tech talent they need,” said ESD President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky in a statement.

Optimax was founded in 1991 and has been ahead of the curve in progress in technologies as diverse as fiber optic telecommunications, solid-state lighting, digital photography, displays and diagnostic medicine. The company has worked on key programs in aerospace, government research and defense.

“We are excited that as we grow we can continue to be a part of the great community in Wayne County and do this expansion in New York State. Optimax has made its home in Ontario, N.Y. since 1993,” said Optimax President Mike Mandina. “Constructing this new expansion enables us to build a state-of-the-art facility that can support our technological and employee growth as the largest high-precision optics manufacturer in the United States. We’d like to thank Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development for their support and assistance enabling us to reinvest in upstate New York and build on Optimax’s growing success.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer