October 8, 2013 9:33:37 AM
East Mississippi Community College and Oktibbeha County representatives say they're willing to work together on a partnership that would bring a workforce training satellite facility to Starkville.
Raj Shaunak, EMCC vice president for workforce and community services, told supervisors Monday that EMCC would require an almost 6,000-square-foot facility to bring introductory manufacturing classes to Oktibbeha County. The board took no action on the matter, but supervisors said they would continue to look into the matter.
EMCC opened a similar training facility six years ago in West Point after the Sara Lee plant ended operations. A facility used by the city and the Tennessee Valley Authority was donated for the project.
School officials have championed their workforce training program as the Golden Triangle Development Link landed major industrial wins -- Yokohama Tire Company's Clay County investment, in particular -- and when Navistar International announced it would idle its West Point plant.
Access to training, District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams said, is paramount for Oktibbeha County residents. Few unemployed residents have the ability to commute four days a week to EMCC's Golden Triangle campus, located in Mayhew, or the West Point facility.
"We're going to have individuals needing to go to work at the new plant in West Point, but they're not going to be trained. I don't have to be the one to say it...but we all know you can't get a job like you used to," he said. "(We need to) identify a location to teach manufacturing skills so our people will be ready to go to work in any of these industries, not just Yokohama, but any industry that opens its doors."
Recent figures show about 5,600 people participated in EMCC's workforce training program, Shaunak said, and about 2,700 of those went on to begin careers in manufacturing.
A 2012 Link study shows about 25 percent of Lowndes County's Golden Triangle Industrial Park employees lived in Oktibbeha County at the time. Shaunak estimated a similar percentage of local residents will find jobs with Yokohama. Link CEO Joe Max Higgins made the same prediction to the Dispatch in May.
"The point is there are a lot of unemployed and under-employed (Oktibbeha County residents)...who need to be motivated and encouraged to participate and take part in educational training," Shaunak said. "I'm telling you, a lot of people are coming here. The opportunities are there, and they need to be created now."
Oktibbeha County's unemployment rate was last measured at 8.8 percent in August, down from July's 9.7 percent estimate. Comparatively, Clay County's latest figure -- 18.3 percent -- was the highest recorded in Mississippi. Lowndes County's 9.5 percent estimate tracked about even with its July report.
"That's the sad part in Starkville and Oktibbeha County. At once, we have some of the highest educated folks with the third-highest income in the state, but we also have the third highest poverty rate and low educational attainment. It's really two different worlds that we have here," Shaunak said. "Still, there are a lot of people beyond high school age who lack relevant skills to be gainfully employed."
Brooks named hospital trustee
Supervisors unanimously approved Kimberly Brooks, a current Starkville Manor nurse and former OCH Regional Medical Center employee, as the hospital's newest trustee.
Brooks will replace Betty Evans, who died shortly after she resigned from her post in July.
A previous nominee, Minnie Fox, was approved for the position, but she relinquished the post last month after supervisors rescinded their action.
In July, the board named Linda Breazeale as former trustee Leon Mathis' replacement.
Supervisors previously committed to joint county-hospital board meetings as a starting point for discussions on the hospital's future, but dates have not yet been set.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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