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A community is only as strong as its workforce, and from the looks of it, employers and employees in the Pine Belt have plans in place that will keep the region profitable well into the future.

A signature piece of this puzzle is securing resources so that up-and-coming workers possess the skills they need to fill jobs locally. Understanding that workforce training is the key to economic prosperity, the Area Development Partnership (ADP) has worked with community partners, such as Pearl River Community College (PRCC), WIN Job Center, Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District (SMPDD), the University of Southern Mississippi and other workforce stakeholders, to find out what gaps need to be addressed and what skills employers are looking for in job candidates.

“First we surveyed local industries and manufacturers to assess their needs,” said David Collum an electronics engineering technology instructor in PRCC’s Forrest County Center. “Along with being a large university and medical community, Hattiesburg has a huge manufacturing base and those industries are seeking qualified employees. We identified immediate and long-range needs to train entry-level employees for manufacturing jobs.”

The survey revealed a remarkable demand for employees: Manufacturers say they need to fill at least 400 new jobs in the near future. Furthermore, Mississippi is expecting a 13 percent growth rate through 2020 in the vital electronics technology field that steers manufacturing operations.

One benefit already underway to help propel the workforce is a new grant that is funding training and classroom equipment for manufacturing programs at PRCC. The ADP worked with its partners to secure the grant.

“The grant will help pay for equipment to train entry-level employees in automation and monitor controls, electrical wiring, robotics and more,” Collum said. “We’re also focusing on soft skills training too, including professionalism in the workplace and critical thinking.”

The ADP has a strong track record of providing effective and efficient assistance to start-ups that range from customer service centers to industrial manufacturing facilities. Small businesses get special attention too, with a unique competitive advantage.

“The ADP runs an in-house loan program for small businesses, providing financing through the Southeast Mississippi Community Investment Corporation (SEMCIC),” said Daniel Jayroe, ADP community development director. “It’s the only program of its kind in the state that’s managed by a Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development Organization. We can offer gap financing, working with a local bank to complete the loan process or direct financing. Loan decisions are made by a 15-person board representing six member banks and the Greater Hattiesburg community.”

Working strategically with partners and the ADP, the State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) has developed a centralized data center where individuals can access services, from labor market analysis to demographic characteristics.

“We’re helping area companies and manufacturers, but it’s a lot bigger than that,” Collum said. “It’s for the people in the community too—our district. It’s the whole insight. My goal as an instructor is not only helping my students gain better employment, but to have a much better life and do well.” n By Cathy Cuthbertson

Top economic Sectors – Sector – Number of Employees

Trade, Transportation and Utilities 14,150
Education and Health Services 10,400
Leisure and Hospitality 7,990
Government 7,410
Professional and Business Services 6,930
Public Education 6,890
Manufacturing 4,500
Financial Activities 2,840
Construction 2,570
Other Services 1,260

Source: MDES, March 2018