Project for Pride In Living is doubling down on its capacity to train and certify hundreds of low-income clients annually for jobs that pay $15-plus an hour.

"We're always about hope, skills and asset-based development," said PPL CEO Paul Williams. "It's our job to help people stabilize, find their strengths and train them for living-wage jobs."

PPL last year acquired and is renovating the years-vacant, century-old Franklin Theater, next door to its headquarters in a once-vacant brownstone office building at E. Franklin Avenue and 11th Avenue S.

The organization is raising $9 million to create an expanded PPL Employment and Training Center a couple blocks east of its cramped training center at E. Franklin and Chicago Avenue S.

The capital campaign, including a $3 million investment in housing, technology and other upgrades, "will enable PPL to expand in employment and housing, where the economy is in desperate need and where PPL has demonstrated tremendous success," said Carolyn Roby, a retired Wells Fargo executive who chairs the campaign.

PPL sees more than 3,500 employment clients annually. They range from drop-in clients who need help with a résumé or soft-skills coaching to 700 job seekers who go through several weeks of formal training that leads to certification and jobs in health care, financial services and other industries.

PPL said its training clients move from incomes of $6,500 to starting salaries that range from $21,000 to $30,000.

"I couldn't believe a program like this existed," said Tonya Moses, a former PPL employment-training client in a statement. "I work full time as a patient assistant coordinator at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. I am on my way."

PPL is one of the key nonprofit groups that train the underemployed or underskilled, including soft-skills as well as technical training. Training can range from a few days to a few months. Candidates range from first-generation immigrants to high school dropouts, those in recovery, former prisoners and others who simply seek to upgrade skills and income.

Other Twin Cities employment trainers include Emerge, Summit Academy, Twin Cities Rise, Goodwill Industries and several local colleges.

Job-hungry economy

PPL also is part of the Hennepin Workforce Leadership Council, a growing group of employers, educators and trainers working to increase the future workforce that state demographers say is still too small to replace retiring baby boomers over the next year and also accommodate the Twin Cities' growing, job-hungry economy.

The community-based trainers include programs offered by Minneapolis Community Technical College, North Hennepin, Normandale and Hennepin community colleges, as well as Augsburg and St. Thomas universities. The trainers disproportionately train minority employees, who are the fastest-growing component of the Twin Cities population and workforce. And their certificate programs can count eventually toward two-year and four-year degrees.

CEO Steve Cramer of the Downtown Council, who chairs the Leadership Council with Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, lauded the PPL expansion.

"Some of these employers say their normal hiring practices misses some folks, particularly people of color," Cramer said. "Career pathways is not the only way, but it's one proven way. From my perspective it allows people farthest from the job market, in terms of experience and skill level, make the connection to the employment.

"It's one thing for local government to say, 'Here's what is the minimum wage.' It's another for a person to have the skills to command more."

PPL's Williams, 55, is a veteran financial and operations executive who has worked in project finance, run St. Paul city operations as deputy mayor and worked for a couple foundations. He grew up in the freeway-demolished Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. With business, government and philanthropic partners, he has been a leader in making commercial and housing upgrades in several inner-city neighborhoods.

"And East Franklin can use another shot in the arm," he said.

Changing street

East Franklin has added hundreds of housing units and attracted more businesses in recent years. Several liquor establishments in the area did not get their licenses renewed in the 1990s. The replacement businesses included American Indian art, restaurants, immigrant-owned shops and Ingebretsen's, the century-old Scandinavian shop that opened a satellite in several-year-old Norway House.

The PPL campaign also is directed by Walter "Rocky" Rockenstein, a retired business lawyer, former PPL board member and Minneapolis City Council member; Christine Hobrough, a U.S. Bank senior vice president; Shay Wyley, a retired General Mills executive; Bill McKinney, a Thrivent Financial vice president, and Mike Christenson, director of workforce development for Hennepin County. It also includes Joe Selvaggio, the founder of PPL in 1972.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144