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story.lead_photo.caption A man works at a computer station Friday at the Jefferson City office of Workforce Development. While he was filling out papers, a ribbon cutting ceremony was going on in the next room in the former Sears wing of the Capital Mall to celebrate the reopening of the Office of Workforce Development. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The Missouri Job Center in Jefferson City has reopened at a new location after being closed for more than a year.

All 27 Missouri Job Centers closed to the public in March due to COVID-19, after Gov. Mike Parson closed state office buildings. However, the Capital City Job Center had closed almost a year earlier, following damage from the May 2019 tornado.

A full year after the tornado, the building at 1716 Four Seasons Drive was still in need of repair work from the damage sustained. Due to issues with insurance, the property owner was delayed in making repairs.

Mardy Leathers, Missouri director of workforce development, said they chose to relocate the Jefferson City job center to a more visible and prominent location — the old Sears space at Capital Mall.

"Instead of opening a new facility quickly, we chose to take our time and to do some work to redesign the footprint of our job center here," Leathers said.

Leathers said the new facility is state-of-the-art, thanks to renovations of the space and inclusion of the latest technology for providing services. A large training room on site is another bonus, allowing the job center to conduct large training events instead of sending clients to another location.

Some extra office space will allow partnering state agencies to provide services in-house.

"It's important to us that customers don't have to be sent to many locations and have to call five different phone numbers to get five different services," Leathers said. "We try to have an inclusive, one-stop business model, and this center will allow us to do that."

The center reopened earlier this week, and an official grand opening and ribbon-cutting were held Friday.

During the grand opening event, speakers — including Commissioner of Higher Education Zora Mulligan — highlighted the recovery of the job center through the tornado and the ongoing pandemic.

"One of our goals throughout the pandemic and the economic crisis that has been its partner is to emerge as a department more resilient and strong than we went in," Mulligan said.

T.R. Dudley, chairman of the Central Region Workforce Development Board, said the new office is a "silver lining" from the tragedy of the tornado.

"The cloud that came to us was the tornado and the devastation that it wrought," Dudley said. "The silver lining was this wonderful facility."

At the same time, the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development has been working to reopen all of Missouri's job centers following the pandemic.

The last closed job center, in Warrenton, reopened Wednesday.

Centers open for in-person services will adhere to social distancing, and protections such as required masks for employees and Plexiglas barriers are in place. Job centers will follow local health guidelines, including mandatory mask ordinances in cities and counties with the restrictions.

Job seekers and displaced workers can still access services by phone at 1-888-728-5627 or at jobs.mo.gov.

Leathers said they are also increasing virtual services and are seeing more customer interaction by phone than before.

Missouri Job Centers provide assistance to unemployed or underemployed job seekers, including services from resume help to professional development training.

"Everything from understanding how to use Microsoft Office products, to how to speak in an interview, how to dress in an interview — anything that will help prepare them for personal, professional development," Leathers said.

The job centers provide vouchers for up $6,000 to offset costs for training programs, including earning a high school equivalency, associate's degree or other professional training, to qualified individuals.

Services are also provided to employers by finding talent, posting job openings and identifying training opportunities.

Job center staff are prepared to assist those receiving unemployment benefits with their required weekly job search activities and unemployment claims.

Leathers said they have been helping more Missourians than ever with unemployment benefits due to the pandemic — more than 483,000 at the peak.

For more information on Missouri Job Centers, visit jobs.mo.gov.

The Capital City Job Center is now located at 3600 Country Club Drive, Suite 2004, and is open from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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