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Profit predicted for Palmer.

The opening of the new Job Corps Center in Palmer could create opportunities for retailers.

A town already short on retailers, Palmer is scrambling to close the gap by early next year when some 250 students take up residence in the new Job Corps Center, a federally-sponsored youth training program that could inject millions of dollars a year into the Palmer business community.

"We want to make sure that the kids who come into the area will want to come to Palmer. So we're looking for establishments that pretty much cater to the students," explains Brigitte Lively, executive director of the Palmer Economic Development Authority (PEDA).

Specifically, Palmer needs a clothing store, a shoe store, a movie theater, a book store, a tape and record store, a video arcade and, perhaps, another fast-food restaurant.

"Palmer thinks this is a great opportunity for new retail to come in," says Lively.

Palmer's community leaders also have been assured by federal authorities that many of the 100-plus employees of the Job Corps Center will be hired from within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Moreover, city fathers are hoping those staffers will make their homes and spend their money in Palmer.

"I think the Job Corps Center is very important to the city," says Palmer Mayor George Carte. "I think any city needs to grow to remain viable. The community that's not growing is definitely in trouble."

In fact, Carte believes the Job Corps Center will help push the town's population over its peak of 3,300, a growth level not attained since the Alaska oil boom of the early 1980s.

"We feel that with the recent growth in housing, and with the Job Corps Center coming on line, we should restabilize this year and then move into a growth pattern," says Carte.

Palmer's Job Corps Center, which will cater to disadvantaged youth throughout the state, will be Alaska's first and the 109th established in the country since the program began in the mid-1960s.

"The design flows because it was made for Alaska," explains Jack Krois, the U.S. Department of Labor's regional director for the Job Corps.

The Palmer center also is the first in the nation to be constructed from the ground up and the first to be jointly financed ($18 million) through a combination of state, federal and local government dollars.

Specifically, the state contributed $4 million toward the project and the borough kicked in $3.5 million. To sweeten the pot, the city of Palmer donated 20 acres and picked up the tab to extend city utilities to the building site, located on the outskirts of town adjacent to the municipal airport.

Now in its second construction season, the largely wood complex includes male and female dormitories, an administration building, a gymnasium, a child care development center, a vocational-educational building, a medical dispensary, a warehouse and a dining hall. The prime building contractor is E&E Construction, a Palmer-based company.

"It's like a mini-college campus," says Krois, "and it will have a ballfield and an outdoor ice rink."

With an annual operating budget exceeding $5 million, roughly 60 percent of which is earmarked for payroll, the Job Corps Center will be among the top employers in the Palmer area when the doors open in February 1994.

Hiring will begin after a private contractor is selected in early August to operate the center on behalf of the federal government.

While too numerous to list here, job descriptions include everything from a director to oversee the operation to bus drivers to transport students to and from the center.

A host of teachers will be needed for basic education, as well as vocational training instructors in an array of crafts, trades and services.

Job Crops worked with Native leaders, unions and businesses to fashion a curriculum that fills long-term job needs in villages and towns around Alaska. The curriculum includes training in marine/fishing technology, carpentry, painting, health occupations, business and clerical skills, facilities maintenance and early childhood education.

"This wasn't put together in a vacuum," says Krois.

Roughly half of the students attending the Job Corps Center will come from rural communities and the other half from towns and cities across Alaska. Their ages will range from 16 to 21, and the average stay at the center will be about 8 months.

Uncle Sam will pick up the entire tab to educate the students, amounting to about $20,000 per student. In addition to transportation, boarding and an education, students will receive a $300 clothing allowance and a monthly stipend based on how well they perform on campus. The stipend ranges from $40 to about $150 a month per student.

"Since they are living in the dorms and eating in the cafeteria, that will be a fairly significant amount of discretionary money," notes Mayor Carte. "They are going to have limited mobility ... but there will be a bus to take them places."

The Job Corps Center also intends to purchase some food and other supplies from local merchants, as well as use professional health services in the area.

After graduation, the federal government will foot the bill for tools or other items a student might need to assure a successful career start.

PEDA's Lively figures the Job Corps Center could bring about $600,000 a month in payroll, supplies and services to the Palmer community. "It's going to be far-reaching," she says.

"We feel an awful lot of the money will be spent in Palmer, providing we have something for them," adds Carte. "Right now, we don't have that much for them. So there's a major (retail) opportunity."

To help fill the overall retail gap, PEDA is shopping for someone to purchase and develop a prime 8-acre parcel in downtown Palmer. The owner has reduced his asking price from $1 million to $226,000.

"We would prefer to have a mall because we just don't have enough shopping opportunities here," says Lively.

PEDA also is hoping that small Anchorage retailers displaced by new national chain stores will consider relocating in the Palmer area. "We feel there are more opportunities here per capita than in Anchorage," says Lively.

Adds Carte, "I think that the change in the retail market in Anchorage ... is going to have a positive impact on us. They could have a loyal clientele from this region and could do very well on a small scale."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Job Corps Center in Palmer, Alaska
Author:Tyson, Ray
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:1063
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