Workforce training center planned for area

Published 12:27 pm Monday, April 5, 2010

Southwest Mississippi Community College is expanding itsworkforce development program, paving the way for workers from theregion and state to acquire better skills and higher pay.

Later this year the college will begin construction on itsRegional Workforce Training Center, a significant expansion to theschool’s existing workforce development programs that is expectedto convey high-tech skills to developing employees andworkers-in-training. The center is expected to employ 80 people andhave an economic impact of $10 million, but its value as a magnetfor high-paying companies that require highly skilled workers couldbe immeasurable.

“It will be a tremendous asset for attracting new businesses andindustries,” said SWMCC President Dr. Oliver Young. “We can reachout to the businesses and industries across our community collegedistrict and provide immediate assistance to their employees in anytraining they need.”

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The $6 million regional center will be funded with a $4.8 grantfrom the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic DevelopAdministration, a $1 million bond from the Mississippi Legislatureand a $200,000 contribution from area businesses. Construction isexpected to start this fall, and hopes are the first classes willbegin in the spring of 2011.

Jerry Malone, director of the SWMCC Workforce DevelopmentCenter, said the regional center would partner with businesses andindustries for job-specific training, like a farm league foremployers statewide. The facility will also teach new job skills tothe unemployed and those looking to advance in their profession,train students to enter the workforce and offer various adulteducation courses.

The skills acquired at the center would help businesses operatemore efficiently, turn higher profits and reinvest in theircommunities, Malone said.

“For students who are already employed with a business orindustry, we feel like this will give them an opportunity toadvance in that particular workplace setting,” he said. “For thosenot employed, it will increase their opportunities to gain moreskills and position themselves to be more employable.”

Programs and opportunities at the new center will expand basedon the needs of businesses and industries not only in Mississippi,but eventually throughout the South, Malone said. The existingprograms already train about 3,000 workers annually.

Politicians and school officials held a luncheon Friday tocelebrate the funding agreement for the regional center, whichSWMCC has been pursuing since early 2008. Predictions for thecenter’s success and missions flowed like wine, with most officialsleaning toward the facility serving as a production line for highlyskilled energy workers.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant pointed to the abundance of naturalresources in Southwest Mississippi when laying out his own designson the regional center. He called the area the “new Mississippifrontier.”

“Y’all have wonderful natural resources down here, but it hasyet to see it’s true potential. Southwest Mississippi is anunderdeveloped area,” Bryant said. “We’ve been pumping oil sincethe 1850s, and geologists tell us half of it still in theground.”

Third Congressional District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper mixed hispraise for progress with politics, saying the U.S. should follow anall-of-the-above approach to energy and expand drilling for oil andgas.

“We can go get our own natural resources in an environmentallysafe manner, and we ought to be able to do that without beingoverregulated,” he said. “We’re in a strong oil and gas area. Weshould be focused on what we’re doing here, focusing on jobs andgrowing the economy.”