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Could the local workforce in a rural part of Florida be prepared for the economic boost from a new airport?

Joel Conner looks at the previous models (Via Bill Jackson/Getty Images)

One of Florida’s poorest counties is getting ready for the new “Airglades” airport, a $300 million cargo hub that could change its economy.

Local leaders view the project as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could bring over 1,400 new, high-skilled jobs to their predominantly agricultural community on the edge of the Everglades. However, to fulfill its potential, educators in the area face significant challenges.

About a third of working-age adults in Hendry County do not have a high-school diploma, and nearly half speak a language other than English at home, among the highest rates in Florida. Before residents can be trained for engineering and manufacturing jobs, educators must help them obtain GEDs and learn English.

Michael Swindle, the county schools superintendent, acknowledged the natural beauty of the area, untouched by development, but also highlighted the county’s challenges, ranking high in negative metrics.

Workers on the welding machine (Via Bill Jackson/Getty Images)

As the airport project progresses through approval stages, community organizations, and schools are addressing teacher shortages and investing in adult education programs.

There are also political challenges. The majority of the county’s workforce is Black and Latino. Efforts to tailor education to these demographic groups have faced scrutiny in Florida, where policies prohibit considering race and national origin in program decisions. Educators note that these political dynamics add to the difficulty of recruiting teachers.

The plan to convert the county-owned airport to private ownership still requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. This hinges partly on securing contracts with vendors in Latin America to demonstrate its potential as a hub for perishable goods.

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