State Farm agent Vince Jarboe and Alexandra White, a health program analyst for the city, organized an employer symposium for the South Louisville Opioid Task Force. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

With the city’s unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent, competition for talented and qualified employees can be fierce. Vince Jarboe believes smart business leaders can gain an advantage by tapping into an often overlooked group of motivated workers — people recovering from addiction.

Jarboe is a member of the South Louisville Opioid Task Force and the Southwest Dream Team, a south Louisville economic development group. The two organizations have joined to present the “Employer Symposium” to persuade companies to tap into the underutilized labor pool of recovering addicts.

The symposium will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Southwest Regional Library, 9725 Dixie Hwy.

Jarboe, who operates a State Farm office in South Louisville, said the event is aimed particularly at small business owners and human resource department leaders who might consider hiring a recovering addict as a gamble. The symposium organizers want to educate them about the recovery process and show them that recovery programs can be a source for good employees, he said.

“We are talking about people who are in recovery. It’s not like they are coming to you saying, ‘I’m a crack addict, why don’t you hire me?’ They have sought recovery, and they are in the process for this. They have a lot of resources to help them,” he explained. “In my opinion, working is the best thing for recovering addicts because it can relieve some of the stressors that might lead to a relapse.”

The South Louisville Opioid Task Force was convened in June 2018 by House Democratic Whip Joni Jenkins, D-44, and State Representative McKenzie Cantrell, D-38, after a study identified the south Louisville districts they represent as having the most accidental drug overdoses in the city during the prior year. The task force includes elected leaders, addiction professionals and community activists who meet once a month to discuss options for fighting substance abuse.

Congressman John Yarmuth addresses attendees at a meeting of the South Louisville Opioid Taskforce at Lynnhurst United Church of Christ. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

“Our work on the task force has reinforced the fact that our community needs more than treatment options to achieve long-term opioid recovery success,” Cantrell said. “Economic opportunity must be a priority because it provides individuals the financial resources and benefits needed to sustain their commitment to recovery. I am so grateful to our south Louisville community members who are making this event a reality.”

Jenkins added that companies are helping the whole community when they hire a recovering addict because they are giving that person the stability and financial security necessary to stay sober.

“Many businesses already recognize the benefits for everyone involved, but others still aren’t quite sure what steps they should take,” Jenkins said. “This event will give them the information they need as well as encouragement to move forward. For many in recovery, a job offered by someone who knows and understands their journey can be life-changing.”

Employers will have multiple opportunities at the symposium to learn how hiring recovering addicts can benefit their individual companies. There will be breakout sessions on the federal bonding program and tax credits and fair hiring practices.

The symposium will also feature a panel discussion with addiction specialists and business leaders who have already hired ex-addicts. Among the panelists scheduled to appear are Margaret Weathers, owner of Margaret’s Moving and Storage; Jeremy Byard, a supported employment specialist for Centerstone Addiction Recovery Center; Rob Perez, owner of Dv8 Kitchen in Lexington; and Zach Watson, a chemical engineer for LG&E and KU.

Scott Koloms, president of Facilities Management Services, will deliver the keynote speech at the symposium.

Jarboe said he wants companies to not only focus on hiring people in recovery but to think about how they handle current employees who might have substance abuse issues.

Ultimately, he said, the symposium is about more than just economics. He is hoping participants in the symposium can learn tools to deal with addiction in both their professional and personal lives.

“What the opioid task force has tried to do is to make people realize, these are your neighbors, these are your children’s friends, these are people from all over the community,” he said. “Substance abuse is everywhere. The task force is just trying to tackle it as best we can, and we feel the key is the employment piece.”

The Employers Symposium is open to representatives from any interested Jefferson County employer or member of the treatment community. Registration is free and can be completed online.