If cities and towns were to give out MVP awards for economic development, Yvonne Fry would have a strong case to claim such an honor from Plant City.
The founder of Fryed Egg Productions – he uses the title “chief fry cook” – Fry is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to sales, marketing, public relations, event management and many other tasks. business development. Also, aside from being a single mom, the 50-year-old is an unabashed evangelist for Plant City, where he was born and raised.
He says: “I am in a fierce competition, but I want to be the leader of my community. “I love it. I’m so thankful for a place I can call home… a special place with a sense of community, where people care about each other and care about our place.”
That caring spirit is reflected in the Future Career Academy, a workforce development initiative Fry helped develop in his role as CEO of Workforce Development Partners, a nonprofit organization that also created the Best Florida Jobs Program. for adults. Now in its seventh year, FCA has had great success with non-college high school students in Plant City, East Tampa and Southern Hillsborough County, who, before graduation, receive classroom instruction on topics will prepare them for success. , such as writing a resume, how to dress for work, communication with other people and other soft skills that they will need to not only negotiate and get a job, but to create a successful career for themselves.
Then, as the students prepare to matriculate, they take part in the “Future Fair” – designed to be more than just a regular job fair, with food, fun and powerful talks from the visitors. – front of places like Plant City Mayor Rick Lott – connecting them with many local employers. This year, Future Shows were held at the TPepin Tourism Center in East Tampa, Hillsborough Community College’s Plant City campus and The Regent, an event venue in Riverview.
Future Shows are followed by signing days – celebrations of FCA participants who are employed by local companies or who are taking part in training and apprenticeship programmes.
During the 2021-22 school year, FCA reached nearly 7,000 students, and partnered with employers such as TECO, Mosaic Co., Publix, BayCare, Coca-Cola, Stingray Chevrolet, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & amp; Casino, Ace Hardware and more. Several sponsoring companies have funded internship opportunities for students, ensuring that students will enter the workforce as debt-free as possible.
Next year, Fry says, FCA will expand to all Hillsborough County high schools, and it could grow even faster. “We’ve had inquiries from all over the country,” Fry says, adding that businesses also want to help the program go to more cities. “The need for both sides is there.”
Fry goes on to describe FCA as a combination, perhaps the culmination, of many aspects of his professional life. In his marketing career, he often deals with business owners and CEOs and has found that, consistently, “the No.1 thing that keeps them up at night is employees,” he says. “Having a broad understanding of different types of businesses, and being able to hear their ‘heartbeat’, has helped me prepare for what I do with this non-profit organization.”
Despite being a busy professional and single parent, Fry makes time to volunteer throughout the year at his children’s schools. That experience made him wonder how students are prepared for successful, rewarding careers and lives, even if they don’t plan to pursue higher education.
“What’s their path when they graduate, if they don’t go to college?” he says. “How do we really prepare them for that next step? I look at what I do with this nonprofit, and I tell people, ‘No matter where you find yourself, everything in your life has prepared you today in a unique way. .’”
That statement could easily apply to Fry’s personal journey. When he graduated from high school in 1989, he was determined to leave the small town life behind and enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
He says: “I followed a boy there. “Obviously that didn’t work. But to be in that place, the poorest state in the union, was one of the greatest gifts.”
It didn’t take long for Fry to make friends at Southern Miss. One of them invited Fry to his family home for the weekend – a memory that stuck with him decades later.
He says: “I get there, and his house has a dirt floor. “Over the weekend, we ate red beans and rice because it’s a nutritious meal that’s cheap to prepare. Those things were just the truth of what the people around me were dealing with.”
That experience, early in his college years, awakened Fry, who spent some of his childhood on the family farm but did not struggle with dirt floors and food shortages. After graduating from Southern Miss, he returned to Plant City.
“It’s amazing that I came back so quickly,” he says. “At that time, most of us wanted to get out (Plant City)— we thought there was nothing here; there is no chance. ”
Through FCA and Best Florida Jobs, Fry has created many opportunities for the next generations of Plant City and Tampa residents. But there is still work to be done. He wants more companies to join the FCA’s business advisory councils, which meet several times a year to assess needs and plan events in the communities the organization serves and projects to serve.
“You put the right people at the table with the right process, which means you build relationships and open up conversations,” he says, “and magic will happen.”