May 15, 2014 10:34:30 AM
Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins sternly warned Golden Triangle elected officials to stop pressuring companies for personal favors in job hires Monday.
Higgins' comments came at the close of an independent economic development report given to about 35 city and county representatives from the Golden Triangle. As Raj Shaunak, vice president of workforce and community services at East Mississippi Community College, finished his own overview of the school's efforts to train local workers for incoming Yokohama Tire Corporation jobs, Higgins took aim at the elected officials and said companies have already begun complaining about facing pressure to make specific hires as favors.
"Guys, this is a teachable moment for you as elected officials," he said to the silent room. "These aren't your jobs to give. These aren't yours to offer. It's not your call to decide what steps somebody makes someone go through to get a job.
"I know for some of you, you're not used to operating this way. You could always call and get somebody a job. I will tell you that there are some manufacturers here that did that... but the fact of the matter is Paccar doesn't play ball that way, Yokohama doesn't play ball that way and the next company we're getting won't play that way. They play it this way," Higgins added in reference to an evaluation and skills-training process all Yokohama applicants must complete. "Quit trying to put the square peg in the round hole and force it because what happens -- we're already hearing it -- is some of these companies are complaining about the pressure to give someone a job. We don't give anybody a job. You have to earn them."
The Yokohama pre-employment training process requires all applicants to earn at least a silver career readiness certificate from the WorkKeys assessment test that covers applied mathematics, information location and reading for information. Re-tests are available for those who score below the required minimum.
Those who pass with a silver designation or above are then eligible for basic manufacturing skills training at EMCC, though some jobs may require additional training and certifications.
Excluding corporate leaders and the top of the hierarchy at Yokohama, all potential employees are required to go through assessment and training requirements. EMCC and its workforce services cannot guarantee employment with Yokohama or any other company, as those decisions are at the sole discretion of the employer.
"The good news is that people who go through the process, they'll be eligible for work with a whole lot of folks," Higgins told elected officials Monday.
To fully understand the pre-employment training process, Higgins said numerous LINK employees went through the testing.
William Fruth, president of the Florida-based economic research POLICOM Corporation, said Monday that the Golden Triangle could become one of the most dynamic small-area economies with proper investments in workforce training and expansion efforts.
His report stated the area is under the gun to produce skilled laborers for incoming projects like Yokohama's Clay County development. As the company proceeds with a first-phase development forecasted to create 500 jobs, additional phases could create 1,500 more positions. The drain on the Golden Triangle's pool of skilled workers could cause other companies eying significant area developments to look elsewhere if the tri-county area fails to provide trained employees.
To solve the issue, the report suggested the Golden Triangle, through the LINK, create a facility to house programs that encourage chronically unemployed and underemployed residents to acquire needed skill sets and education for expected jobs. The programs, Fruth said, should also inspire school-age children by teaching them the virtues of gainful employment.
The tri-county economic development center could also serve as a business incubator, house offices for economic organizations and provide more space for educational efforts.
The LINK is also expected to advocate expanding EMCC's advanced manufacturing education center and is already identifying land for a potential new research and development park in Starkville near Mississippi State University's campus.
Those projects, along with a sewage expansion near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, amount to about $65 million in initial investments that could position the region as a powerhouse in economic development enticement, Higgins said.
The LINK previously secured pledges from cities and counties to issue economic development bonds for projects and infrastructure improvements. Those mechanisms could begin this calendar year, Higgins said following Monday's report.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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