With the hope of further expanding the digital economy across Eastern Kentucky, Owsley Countians, as well as local leaders and officials with Teleworks USA, joined together Friday, Feb. 24 at the Owsley County Action Team office in Booneville to celebrate the nearly 70 jobs that have been brought to the county through teleworking opportunities with Teleworks USA.
An initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), Teleworks USA identifies and develops legitimate remote-work, distance learning opportunities, and helps people prepare for and land these jobs through its website, teleworks.com. Teleworks USA also operates hubs in Annville, Beattyville, Booneville, Harlan, Hazard, and Pike County that offer workspace and workshop learning opportunities for teleworkers who may not have access to suitable internet speeds or computer equipment at home.
Since opening its doors in July 2016, the Booneville Teleworks Hub has connected 67 jobseekers with gainful telecommuting work, either from the hub or working from home, with some of the country’s top and most well-known telework companies, said Michael Cornett, EKCEP’s director of agency expansion.
“It’s amazing the success we’ve seen in just a short amount of time from the Booneville Hub, and, really, the entire Teleworks USA initiative as a whole,” Cornett added.
More than 650 people have gained telework employment since January 2015 through Teleworks USA’s network of Teleworks Hubs. This equals an estimated economic impact of more than $13.1 in new wages paid to Eastern Kentuckians by telework employers outside the state, and Owsley County’s 67 jobs represent $1.3 million of that total.
That impact has been felt by Owsley County residents like Chanda Gazzara, who have found employment through the Booneville Teleworks Hub.
For Gazzara, the opportunity Teleworks USA presented was not only a job opportunity, but a chance to turn her life around. While speaking at the celebration on Feb. 24, Gazzara noted that she had been in search of a job for months, but was unable to find anything in her hometown. That changed when she discovered the Teleworks USA hub in Booneville.
“They went out of their way to pick me up and get me back on my feet,” Gazzara said.
Gazzara signed up for Teleworks USA’s digital literacy, customer service, and tech support workshops not long after the Booneville Hub opened in July 2016. Within a month, she landed a customer service position with U-Haul, taking up to 80 calls a day to assist the company’s customers with reservations and other services.
“We don’t want to just lay back and get money from the government,” Gazzara said of her community. “We want to stand on our own two feet. We want to be able to give back, we want to feel the confidence that having a job gives you, making your own money, being able to support not only yourself but your family and giving back to the community. It empowers you.”
That empowerment, Gazzara went on to say, doesn’t just come from the Teleworks initiative itself, but from the workers and staff who work to make it possible for jobseekers to find employment.
“They don’t just come in and do a job and go home. They’re available 24-7 to help you,” she said.
Molly Turner, executive director of the Owsley County Action Team (OCAT), which has been the prime partner in getting the Teleworks USA Hub opened in Booneville, said that being able to bring jobs to her community after years of economic turmoil in the area has been one of the best things that could have ever happened in her tenure working with the OCAT.
“You’re not just helping me celebrate 60 jobs, you’re helping me celebrate realizing a dream, because for years people have come in here and asked, do you know where I can find a job? And I have to look at them and say I don’t know of anybody that’s hiring,” Turner said. “So, it’s so great to be able to say go next-door… and (Booneville Teleworks Hub Manager) Carla (Gabbard) will help you through all of the stages to get that job.”
Cornett said that EKCEP and Teleworks USA are excited to continue working side-by-side with the partners that helped make the Booneville Teleworks Hub a reality. The Owsley County Action Team provided integral support for the creation for the Booneville Hub, he added, as did Owsley County Judge-Executive Cale Turner, the Owsley County Fiscal Court, Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), Jackson Energy, and Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).
“I’m telling you today that this is far more important than if some company had come in here and hired a hundred people in a factory,” Judge-Executive Turner said to the crowd of nearly 50 people at the event. “That would have been great—this is going to be even greater because the numbers are going to be over 100 and they’re going to be sitting right at home and they’re going to be making money and the numbers can keep going up.”
Turner went on to say that Teleworks USA reaching out to him and his community was like a lifeline at a time when the local tobacco industry was taking a nosedive and taking jobs with it.
“These are my people,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to try to do something to benefit our community. From day one this community came together like a rock when we realized there was an opportunity for jobs, but for God’s sake, if we would not have come together as one community for jobs, as starved as we are for jobs what kind of people would we be?”
The Booneville Teleworks Hub features up to 30 workstations ready for teleworkers who may not have the appropriate equipment or internet connections to work from home. A new workshop in Booneville is starting soon for interested and potential teleworkers.
Seating for the workshops is limited, so interested jobseekers in Owsley and surrounding counties should make sure they contact Carla Gabbard at email@example.com, or call her at 606-438-5399.
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at http://www.ekcep.org, http://www.jobsight.org and http://www.facebook.com/ekcep.
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