BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- As Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay struggle with unemployment rates as high as 40 percent, Palm Beach County has started to lay the groundwork for a major development that could someday rise from sugar cane fields in the far western reaches of the county.
The proposed project, an 850-acre inland port that would store and ship tons of cargo from three South Florida seaports on rail-cars to cities across the country, is in the concept stages.
But that hasn't stopped Workforce Alliance from investing tens of thousands of dollars in the region to train residents and sharpen their skills for the jobs that may be on the horizon.
Since the summer of 2011, more than 1,600 people in the tri-cities have found jobs through Workforce Alliance, a spokesperson said.
Shannon LaRocque, an Assistant Palm Beach County Administrator, said the proposed inland port -- and a proposed windmill farm near Belle Glade -- could be game changers in the region.
"I think it's huge. We believe that the skill set for the jobs match the skill sets in the region. So, it would be a tremendous opportunity for good, long sustainable employment for the residents in the Glades," LaRocque said. "It's a huge opportunity to develop a comprehensive, master plan for the region which includes jobs, jobs training, housing, infrastructure. It's still in its infancy but it's definitely moving along."
In addition to the inland port, a 13,000-square foot wind farm that could generate power to thousands of homes and create as many as 300 jobs during construction has been proposed.
Andrea Montoya, a Pahokee resident and Palm Beach State College student, said many of her friends in the area struggled to find jobs.
"You have to move somewhere else to find a job. The town is too small," she said. "Most of them have to go to Palm Beach to look for a job."
West Palm Beach is about 42 miles from Belle Glade.
LaRocque said a preliminary study on the proposed inland port could be completed as early as next year.
The study, she said, would allow Palm Beach County to lobby the federal government to make an investment in the project's development.