June 4, 2013 9:35:27 AM
East Mississippi Community College President Rick Young came before the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Monday to ask for a two-mill tax increase to cover building construction needed to expand overall capacity.
Citing the opening of the Yokohama tire manufacturing plant's first phase in West Point in 2015 as well as other industries in the Golden Triangle, Young said there is increased demand to provide the education and training needed to succeed in the workforce. Part of doing that, he said, will require construction of a new multi-purpose building on the college's Mayhew campus. Young said new dormitories are also needed on the college's main Scooba campus.
"We're about building capacity in the Golden Triangle and we're looking at repackaging our career tech programs," Young said. "We're looking at a greater focus: How do we do better in dealing with workforce training and meeting the needs of industry?"
EMCC Vice President of Workforce and Community Services Raj Shaunak said the same kind of commitment Lowndes and other counties showed by helping fund a 30,000-square-foot training facility more than 15 years ago is needed again in order for the college to continue meeting its potential and preparing people for successful careers. Shaunak commended the board for showing that same kind of commitment to fostering an environment for industrial growth.
"Yokohama occurred because of all the success that happened in Lowndes County and the growth that had occurred here over the last 10 years. That gave them the confidence in the Golden Triangle community and the educational institutions such as East Mississippi Community College could support their needs," he said. "It's one of those interesting issues we have. We serve them well in their first phase of 500 jobs and they would grow to the second phase of 500 jobs."
Under the terms of the Yokohama agreement, the state would have to pay penalties if the tire manufacturer is required to go out of state to find qualified workers.
EMCC Golden Triangle campus Vice President Paul Miller said while recent enrollment has stayed steady, it has grown "exponentially" compared to 10 years ago, necessitating a capacity upgrade such as the new student union in Mayhew.
"We're not just looking for a building that adds amenities to the campus. We're looking for a functional building that would really serve the infrastructure and the student service needs of almost 4,000 students," Miller said. "The three areas we're looking at specifically is manufacturing training, healthcare training and, then, the partnerships we're currently in and want to expand -- we've got to have capacity to do those. Our future is just as bright and even more busy in terms of manufacturing training. We've got to be ready. If we can find support to help with this anchor building that gets us off the ground with 12 new classrooms, gets us off the ground with a comprehensive food service cafeteria, (it helps EMCC) to be able to support the kind of traffic that comes on campus."
Young said under his administration a 25-year comprehensive plan to meet growing enrollment and changing student needs has been completed.
"We're at a point where we either stay where we are or we grow. If you stay where you are, you start dying. I don't think we've even touched on what the potential is, but I also know that what is important for those people who would go to work every day and take advantage of the employment opportunities, and that's where we need the capacity to grow," Young said. "We know what's needed to move forward. We've shown that we're very good stewards of the dollars we have, but we are at a ceiling."
Board President Harry Sanders suggested Young come back with more concrete figures on what construction of each new facility would cost to give supervisors a clearer idea of how much the county would need to provide.
"I think if you came with some idea of where we knew exactly was needed and exactly what Lowndes' County's obligation would be...if we had a concrete assessment the county could make and prorate that out on what each county participation would be," Sanders said. "Instead of financing the whole plan on the front end, just piece-meal one at a time and maybe we can work something out."
Young has met with governing bodies of each of the six counties EMCC serves except Oktibbeha to ask for funding. Acting on a suggestion from Sanders and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, Young will arrange to meet with leaders from each county to discuss projected construction costs in greater detail.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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