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MEC president:

Wilson confident workforce training issue will be resolved

Many business leaders continue to voice concerns over a $17.7-million cut in proposed education enhancement funds for community colleges, while others caution that it’s too early to panic.

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said he’s confident the situation will be resolved.

“Naturally, everybody worries whenever they see a proposal to cut the budget, and it was a pretty substantial cut,” he said. “Those of us that are closer to the process realize that anytime something like this happens early in the session, it’s probably too soon to become too excited. It’s important to remember that early in the legislative session is a time for seeking information.”

MEC faxed members asking for their feedback on how community college budget cuts would affect their businesses, Wilson said.

“Our fax to our membership was purposely low-key because we understood that this was a fact-seeking time, and we didn’t want to be alarmists,” he said. “We wanted to gather information from our members about how this would impact them and we got several hundred responses from concerned members. We offered the information to committee members, and they were very glad to have it.”

J.C. Burns, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, said workforce training and re-training are strategic to Mississippi’s economy.

“The vital link between skilled workers and economic competitiveness is well understood,” Burns said. “Community college workforce development programs provide an essential element in our state’s economic equation. It is imperative to our people’s job security and to our state’s economy to not only sustain but to increase funds needed to keep our people competitive in today’s global economy.”

Marty Milstead, executive director of the Homebuilders Association of Mississippi, said budget cuts would represent serious economical problems for the state.

“The No. 1 problem the construction industry continues to face is a shortage of labor,” he said. “We’ve been working with and depending on the community colleges to help us out with that problem. Hopefully, legislators will find a way to continue to provide us with trained workers for the construction industry even through a budget cut. If you look at the construction industry, it provides jobs and turns the economy. If we don’t have workers to do it, there will be less money than what the state has now. The construction industry is being a key economic indicator and tax base. We’ve got to have workers to continue to turn the economy.”

Suggested cuts could include a 45% reduction in funds for One-Stop Career Centers, or workforce education centers, that provided job training for 100,000 Mississippians last year.

William A. Moran, plant manager for FMC Tupelo, a 33,000-square-foot turnkey facility that employs 375 non-union workers and has been open since 1974, said economic development for Mississippi comes from growth of existing industry as well as from new industry.

“A primary reason for funding workforce training programs is to support the training and education needs associated with economic development,” Moran said. “The success of economic development is certainly linked to customized training and education programs on a wide range of technologies. Appropriate funding levels of workforce training programs are a wise investment in our future. The investment will be recovered. Competition is very strong for attracting economic growth, and we must remain fiercely competitive to assure our future success.”

Jerry Stubbs, human resources supervisor for Air Cruisers, a commercial aviation equipment company in Liberty, said many of his company projections are incorporated into five-year plans.

“We don’t plan one to two years out, we plan longer than that,” Stubbs said. “If we can’t know that money is unavailable for training in less time than a year, we’ve got a real problem.”

Air Cruiser has been working through Southwest Community College’s training program “with wonderful cooperation,” Stubbs said. “Our next big program is 2001. Now we’re hit with this. It’s very hard to budget an industry when we don’t know what to expect.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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