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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Training center will prepare homeless and unemployed for jobs

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Teachable moment: The staff at Larson Training Centers is ready to get to work.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the Downtown Project and all the new kids on the block Downtown are occasionally knocked as being for everyone, so long as “everyone” only includes the hipster crowd.

Critics say DTP wants to push out the old Downtown. They point to disappearing Fremont Street businesses as evidence: A tattoo shop closed, a Mexican restaurant shuttered, a convenience store and deli out of business. A few old motels bought by DTP have been emptied of tenants (DTP helped them find alternate quarters).

If DTP is all about “community,” locals complain, doesn’t that include the poor, the homeless or businesses not considered so “hip”?

Well, in early November, Larson Training Centers will begin classes aimed largely at training older residents in some of the basic work skills that may have passed them by for whatever reason. That includes typing, using Microsoft Office, basic accounting practices and even how to use the Internet.

And here’s the part that should get everyone’s attention: Larson specifically targets the homeless or underemployed, veterans or government employees who may have been disabled at work, and low-risk felons. In Las Vegas, those would include inmates of Casa Grande Transitional Center, a prison for non-violent, non-sex-crime inmates 18 months or less away from parole eligibility.

Larson education director Edward Bevilacqua and marketing director Moe Bedard, along with chief administrative officer Charry Kennedy, say Downtown Las Vegas is the perfect locale for Larson, a 24-year-old company.

“There’s a lot of cool stuff going on here, and as business grows, they need non-management people, so we are working closely with the Urban League” to find students, Bevilacqua says.

The hope is that students will come largely from the area surrounding Fremont Street. Larson likes to find students motivated by, well, life—preferably over 40 with a “failure is not an option attitude.”

“We take people who are on the path of hopelessness and get them back on the path of hope,” Bevilacqua says. “Our mission is to help them become financially secure through stable and meaningful employment.”

He expects tuition here to be about $2,860.

“Our student-to-teacher ratio is five-to-one,” Bevilacqua adds.

Based in Southern California, Larson boasts a placement rate of about 80 percent. That number will be aided here by the fact that businesses hiring its students are eligible for a $2,000 bonus through Nevada’s JobConnect program. Federal tax credits are also available.

Though Downtown Project is not an investor—Larson will pay 100 percent of its students’ tuition for the time being—it is leasing space to Larson in the Downtown Learning Village, on Fremont between Eighth and Ninth streets.

It’s also easy to see why DTP wants something like Larson Downtown. Though redevelopment is moving east on Fremont, the area is still riddled with the homeless and unemployed. If they can find work, perceptions of the redeveloping area are bound to improve.

Bevilacqua also sees how Larson fits into Downtown’s hipster ethos.

“Are we cool enough for Downtown?” he asks. “I’ll tell you why it’s cool. It is the best means for motivated yet less-educated adults to cross the ‘digital divide’ and learn to use the Internet.”

The first class of about 20 students begins November 12.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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