June 3, 2013 9:38:22 AM
A former leader of two area universities begins serving as a workforce development consultant with the Golden Triangle Development Link this month.
Former University of Alabama Chancellor and Mississippi State University President Malcolm Portera is working with programs at MSU and East Mississippi Community College to ensure positions that come open when the Yokohama tire manufacturing plant begins operations in 2015 will be filled predominantly by people living in the Golden Triangle and Northeast Mississippi area, Link CEO Joe Max Higgins said Friday.
Higgins said there is a clause in the memorandum of understanding between the state of Mississippi and Yokohama that requires the state to pay Yokohama a penalty if it has to go outside the state to find qualified workers to fill various positions. The plant will be located at a megasite northeast of West Point.
"Since there is a penalty, we're going to double up and triple up our efforts...Those qualified applicants include engineers, too. It counts for certified public accountants. You're talking about everybody," Higgins said. "It's not yet too early for Yokohama to be -- maybe not the fall semester -- but the spring semester, going to Mississippi State and start recruiting those engineers and CPAs when they're juniors and say, 'When you get out of school start going after the best and brightest even before (the) plant gets finished.' I think Mack's the kind of guy that can make that happen."
Portera is credited as being a key figure in luring a Nissan automobile manufacturing plant to Canton and a Mercedes Benz plant to Alabama. A Clay County native, Portera led MSU from 1998-2001 before becoming UA Chancellor, where he served in that role until his retirement last year.
Higgins said Portera's far-reaching connections will be instrumental in establishing and maintaining a healthy amount of qualified workers to fill the range of positions as more become available when additional phases of the plant are completed.
"When Yokohama announced, we started looking at workforce development and we sat down with him and said, 'Would you be amenable to us using you coordinating the EMCC, the MSU and the high schools, making sure that we're sending a pipeline or at least these places know what product they need to be putting out?'" Higgins said. "(Portera is) economic development and educational royalty in two states. Probably 80 percent of his time we see being on education, workforce development (and) workforce readiness -- making sure the Triangle's ready. He's a West Point native, so he's giving a little bit of his heart."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.