It was a bus ride of opportunity Friday, Jan. 27, for 100 seniors from Plant City High School.
Students departed at 8 a.m. on two buses from 1 Raider Place to learn about job opportunities post-graduation. But the buses didn’t drive to Tampa or Lakeland or even Bradenton. Instead, they stopped at four major employers in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Hosted by the Plant City Economic Development Corp., the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce and Plant City High School, the excursion served as a way to educate students about opportunities in town that they may have been previously unaware of.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65.9% of high school graduates enrolled in college in 2013, down from 66.2% in 2012 and 70.1% in 2009.
While graduation rates at all three area high schools have continued to surpass the county and statewide graduation rates, area schools including PCHS are focused on preparing students for the next phase of their life, post-graduation – which doesn’t necessarily mean college.
“It’s about making connections between kids and the community, and having them find not just a job, but a career,” Plant City High School Principal Susan Sullivan said.
On Jan. 27, students toured Star Distribution Systems, Evergreen Packaging Solutions, James Hardie and Stingray Chevrolet – four companies based in Plant City that hire graduates directly out of high school.
Students kicked off the day at Star Distribution and Evergreen Packaging, both located on Henderson Way in Plant City. At Star, which brands itself as Florida’s premier third-party logistics company, students learned about opportunities within the company’s warehouse.
Gilbert Desparza, the company’s warehouse manager, has worked for Star for 17 years and started fresh out of high school. He worked his way up to warehouse manager after starting at Star stacking containers.
Bobby Tyson, the company’s vice president of truckload operations, also went to school locally and graduated from Plant City High School.
“There are opportunities to go to the top,” Tyson said. “The only way to do it is to work hard, period. Work hard at it, and you’ll be successful.”
Paving the Way
At all companies, students would be able to make a living wage directly out of high school. At Evergreen Packaging, which has 185 employees, the starting salary is $14.07 per hour for entry-level employees, with the opportunity to make $17.73 per hour in two years.
Specialty employees make even higher wages. Operators at Evergreen make between $18.77 and $21.38 per hour, the equivalent of about $44,000 per year. Additionally, maintenance technicians make $23.15 per hour and can earn up to $28.11 per hour, the equivalent of about $58,000 per year.
In 2016, the Plant City-based packaging company shipped over 1.3 billion packages. The company places an emphasis on safety, as well. In January 2006, the company marked two and one half years without a recordable injury. In 2011, the company hit a milestone of six million safe work hours.
In addition to touring facilities and learning about opportunities within Plant City’s workforce, students were also able to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for QGS Development Inc., a site development and golf course contracting company. The company will be building a 16,000-square-foot facility as part of Lakeside Station on Park Road.
Students were joined for the ceremony by business owners, city commissioners and Hillsborough County District 4 School Board Member Melissa Snively.
Snively addressed students at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“This is exactly what we’re talking about when we tell our students that we want to prepare them for life,” Snively said. “That is our vision for our school district, and this is how we make that happen. I am so thrilled that this vision is coming to fruition now, and I would love to see more of this across the school district. We need this to happen everywhere for our students. We need to find a way to say ‘yes’ more often.”
Mayor Rick Lott encouraged businesses and students to maintain the connections they made through the trip.
“Would every business here say we’re all looking for good employees? Would every student say you’re looking for a good job?” Lott said. “I hope this builds and builds and builds for future years and becomes a tradition in our community that allows us to show the students coming out of our high schools that there’s great opportunity in Plant City. Everyone’s life is touched by Plant City. The products that people are using are manufactured in Plant City. Not everything, but something in your everyday life is touched and manufactured right here. If you get to be a part of it, I can’t imagine something more exciting. ”
He also encouraged students to pursue job opportunities within Plant City after graduation.
“The next few months, you’re going to be beginning a new chapter in your life.” Lott said. “I want to encourage you to continue to complete yourself. Complete yourself as a person, as a human, as someone that’s going to give back to the community of Plant City. I encourage you to never, never, never give up. Go for it. The future is really bright in Plant City.”
“I can’t wait to see what you’re capable of doing,” she told students. “And we hope you do it right here in Plant City.”
Contact Emily Topper at firstname.lastname@example.org.