Solano County employers hope to launch careers for underserved students

A Solano County program designed to provide underserved community college students with the opportunity to gain business experience has been adopted by a major health care system.

Through its philanthropic arm, Kaiser Permanente will donate $12,500 to support a pilot project set to begin next month between the Solano Economic Development Corporation and the Solano Community College District.

The program, a 10-week fellowship, is the brainchild of Chris Rico, president and CEO of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. Rico, who joined the organization in January, previously led the Center for Innovation at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, where he focused on a similar workforce development program.

“If you go to a two-year institution, you don’t usually have access to the kind of networks that people do when they go to a four-year institution,” Rico said. “I want to put equity and diversity at the center of this organization, (including) economic diversity.”

It turns out that Rico quickly found a way to bring his program to life. The chair of the Solano EDC board happens to be Celia Esposito-Noy, superintendent and district president of Solano Community College.

“Unless you know someone who works in local government, business or a nonprofit agency, you’re unlikely to know much about economic development and the career opportunities that are out there,” he said. Esposito-Noy told the Business Journal in an emailed statement. “Our goal is to identify students who might not otherwise have this opportunity and introduce them to certain facets of economic development, including outreach, marketing, land use, or public policy.”

The Solano EDC scholarship will allow students to learn, earn money and college credit at the same time, she noted.

“Students will enroll in vocational education at the college and receive general education credit and a $2,500 stipend from EDC,” she said. The stipend will come from Kaiser funding. “I hope that with this scholarship, students will further explore economic development opportunities, as they may find an exciting career they have never known.”

For Kaiser, the fraternity ticked all the boxes for its philanthropic efforts, according to Nor Jemjemian, senior vice president and regional manager of Kaiser Permanente Napa-Solano.

“Our support for this program is driven by our desire to ensure that these students receive the guidance, education and mentorship they need to lead healthy lives,” Jemjemian said in an emailed statement.

The first cohort will be made up of three students, Rico said.

“We’re starting small (because) we’re a very small organization and we have human capital constraints,” Rico said, adding that Solano EDC business partners are excited about the program. “Many of them have already indicated that as we develop this program, they will want access to this talent. And a long-term goal is that we develop the talent pool in the regional economy.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, healthcare and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily in New Jersey and for NJBIZ, the state’s business newspaper. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, PA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at [email protected] or 707-521-4259.

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