Drug chain wins grant for training Empowerment zone funds will help educate drivers

March 25, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's multimillion-dollar federal revitalization effort has made its first award of job training funds to a local drug chain to teach residents of some of the city's poorest neighborhoods how to deliver pharmaceuticals.

The $12,000 grant of empowerment zone funds to NeighborCare will help pay for training five drivers who live in the zone in East, West and South Baltimore. After the drivers successfully complete the training, the company has promised to hire them at a salary of $7 an hour, plus benefits.

NeighborCare's chief executive officer, Michael G. Bronfein, is a member of the 31-member board overseeing the empowerment zone, but officials said he played no role in the decision to make the award.

"The fact that Michael was a board member was revealed and fully disclosed when the issue came up," said Leslie Bender, an empowerment zone official who works on economic matters.

Job training and job creation are the key goals of Baltimore's empowerment zone, which includes $100 million in federal grants and tax breaks to businesses worth $225 million more.

In a related development, a ribbon-cutting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been set for tomorrow to announce the relocation from Baltimore County to the empowerment zone in West Baltimore of Plunkett-Webster Inc., a building materials distributor.

The empowerment zone board has earmarked $11 million for job training over five years.

The empowerment zone is seeking proposals for two types of job training programs: general occupational training that would teach a skill and customized programs designed to prepare residents for specific jobs.

Ms. Bender said the latter is "the preferred type of training because there's a job at the end."

Any city business "that can create jobs for zone residents" can apply for the customized training funds, even if the business is not in the empowerment zone, she said. The idea, she said, is to provide an incentive to businesses to hire residents of the empowerment zone, where the unemployment rate is 17 percent.

The NeighborCare award of $12,000 -- or $2,400 for each of the five drivers -- will cover slightly more than half the cost of training the drivers to get a commercial driver's license and learn to deliver pharmaceuticals to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other medical facilities, documents show. The company will pay the rest.

The bulk of the empowerment zone money -- $1,700 per person -- is for half the cost of a 90-day on-the-job-training program.

Mr. Bronfein acknowledged that his company, which has 47 drivers, would benefit from the award by reducing its training costs, but he said empowerment zone residents also would benefit.

"It's a win-win," he said. "If this works, there'll be 10 more" jobs.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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