Cape Ann Works launches to help fill work force needs | News

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A new program called Cape Ann Works plans to bring more than 50 international students from Europe to Cape Ann this summer to fill seasonal jobs here while also seeking to attract local high students to the region’s work force.

The grassroots initiative was spearheaded by state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and his office, the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce and its senior vice president, Peter Webber, and Mechelle Brown, Rockport’s community engagement coordinator.

The group has worked to create an innovative program meant to overcome the barriers for international students who may want to come live and work here: the high cost of housing and the need for transportation.

The program will also offer enrichment activities and training for students, and a discount program at local retailers and eateries called Works Perks.

In addition attracting international students to fill seasonal jobs, the program is for students from Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Hamilton and Ipswich.

“Work force issues present a major challenge for local employers, and a major opportunity for students to earn money while exploring different types of jobs,” said Tarr of Gloucester in a statement. “Through a tremendous team effort we have developed an innovative program that will bring students here from around the world to experience this special place where we live, while at the same time opening doors of employment for local students as well.”

“Beyond simple economics, Cape Ann Works will strengthen our local economy while capturing unique opportunities for cultural exchange and learning,” Tarr added.

The program plans to house international students at Gordon College in Wenham and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton and provide them with a way to get around with a bus route thanks to the Cape Ann Transportation Authority based in Gloucester.

“I think it’s a program that we can grow with, yes,” said Lenny Linquata, owner of the Gloucester House Restaurant, who was at the program’s kickoff on April 19 in the ballroom of the Beauport Hotel Gloucester. “I think this is a great beginning.”

While other regions may seek to attract international students on J1 visas as seasonal help, organizers say what makes the program unique is the coordinated effort for housing, transportation, discounts and enrichment activities, including recreational activities through the YMCA of the North Shore.

Program proponents say this will also be an opportunity for the region to benefit culturally from the exposure to students from abroad.

“We need workers,” said state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, during the program’s launch, which was attended by some students. “And I think judging by what I see in this room tonight, we actually see some workers coming out and coming forward.”

 “This is an incredible opportunity,” said state Rep. Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, D-Topsfield. “It’s going to marry exactly what the rep. was stating earlier and that’s workforce needs and an opportunity to bring some international students to our workforce and also focusing on our own workforce here.”

Those who helped get Cape Ann Works off the ground include CATA administrator Felicia Webb and Beauport Hospitality Group’s managing director Ray Johnston, Brown said. Tarr, who was instrumental in coming up with the idea for the program this past winter, could not be in attendance.

At the event, Webber, the chamber’s senior vice president, thanked Rockport’s selectmen and town administrator for their support. He also thanked Elizabeth Carey, executive director of Discover Gloucester, and local high schools for their support.

Also in attendance was Ken Riehl, Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce’s CEO, and representatives of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell, including Gordon College’s new president Michael Hammond.

The group also heard from Greg Blagden of Cape Ann Website Design who designed the program’s website, capeannworks.com. This is the site where students can register and search for jobs and employers can post job opportunities.

Webber said Cape Ann Works has been working with the organization InterExchange Work and Travel USA which matches U.S. host employers with international students who speak English to work in seasonal jobs in the U.S., according to its website.

Webber said among the businesses recruiting international students are Emerson Inn in Rockport, Beauport Hospitality Group, The Vista Motel in Gloucester, Hefring Engineering of Gloucester, My Place by the Sea Restaurant in Rockport, Relish Catering and Events, The Event Company, and the Yella on the Water Restaurant.

Webber noted the program also received help from MassHire, and several businesses have already stepped up to offer Works Perks to students, including Rockport Candle Company, Brothers Brew Coffee Shop in Rockport, Tuck’s Candy Factory in Rockport and Maritime Gloucester on Harbor Loop. The Works Perks program includes discounted membership at the YMCA of the North Shore, officials said.

“This is a great idea,” said Christina Willcox, owner of Rockport Candle Company. “Works Perks is a way that our students can benefit from working in our community. … It’s a way for them to get additional bonuses and discounts for shopping in our community or for eating out in our community.”

Willcox said she needs both retail and manufacturing help and she is looking to hire local students so they could work beyond the summer season. The family-owned business employs two to seven people depending on the time of year.

To get the word out to local students, Brown said school assemblies are planned for the program starting Tuesday, April 26, at Rockport and Manchester Essex Regional high schools, followed by assemblies on Wednesday, April 27, at Essex Tech in Danvers and on May 3 at Ipswich and Gloucester high schools.

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