RAYMOND – Bob Mullins, vice president for economic development and outreach at Hinds Community College, will retire after 31 years on Feb. 16. Three days later, he will start a new job as Nissan’s sectional manager of organizational development/ human resource de-velopment in Mississippi.
In his new post, Mullins, 54, a Brook-haven native and lifelong Jackson resident, will be responsible for the training of all new employees at the Canton facility, where up to 4,000 jobs could be generated.
Despite a hectic schedule last week, Mullins talked with the Mississippi Business Journal about his involvement with Hind’s Resource and Coordinating Unit for Economic Development (RCU) and the Eagle Ridge Conference Center, his thoughts on proposed community college cuts, the importance of the state’s workforce training program and what he’ll be doing at Nissan.
Mississippi Business Journal: Tell us about your educational background.
Bob Mullins: After I graduated from Hinds Community College with a (two-year associate of arts) degree in drafting and design technology, I transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi, where I received B.S. degrees in industrial technology and architectural technology in 1969. After graduation, I returned to Hinds to teach, but was only there for four months before I joined the National Guard. That was during the time of the draft lotteries and almost everybody’s plans changed overnight.
After training and service with the National Guard, I returned to USM and worked full-time in the physical plant and attended graduate school at night until I received a master’s degree in administration in 1971. I returned to Hinds again and taught drafting and design technology on the Raymond campus. Two years later, I moved to the Jackson branch, now called the Academic/Technical Center (ATC), as assistant vocational director, primarily coordinating night school activities.
MBJ: Didn’t ATC assist with the startup training program for Packard Electric in Clinton?
BM: Yes, we began to provide contract training, and it worked very well. Ten years later, I returned to the Raymond campus as the assistant dean, working primarily with the day school programs, registration and continued working in the vocational/technical school. Then in the late 1980s, we saw the need for even more contract training programs.
In 1997, the National Guard came to us for software training for 300 employees. Of course, they had time limitations and were interested in doing it quickly, so I went to Dr. (Clyde) Muse (HCC’s president) and told him that if he’d let me spend $30,000 and buy 15 computers, I thought we could make it back in a reasonable amount of time, and he agreed. We trained the National Guard ahead of schedule, broke even and ended up with equipment to train regular students as a bonus.
Then Dr. Muse and the board of trustees decided to start the Resource and Coordinating Unit for Economic Development (RCU). At the time I became dean of the RCU, we had a staff of four and a $250,000 budget. Since then, we’ve built the Eagle Ridge Conference Center as an outgrowth of RCU, have 44 people on staff and a $4 million-plus budget.
MBJ: How was Eagle Ridge financed?
BM: About six years ago, Dr. Muse and the board of trustees did something unique: instead of asking for federal or state monies, we wrote a business plan to borrow money to repay the yearly note.
MBJ: Wasn’t that Plan B?
BM: When the plan was first introduced, we tried to market it as an investment to business and industry. We had the idea, ‘give us $50,000 and we’ll name a room after you, plus give you so many days of use of that room every year,’ but after a year, we weren’t able to raise significant funds. We looked at creative financing, like bonds, that wouldn’t put a strain on the institution. That turned out to be the very best thing and was a win-win situation for the board of trustees, the college and taxpayers.
MBJ: After making so much progress on workforce training, what are your thoughts on proposed community college cuts?
BM: It’s going to make it very difficult for companies to do things that are required over the next couple of years. You can’t quit training people. Unfortunately, if the workforce training and development money is cut, not only will people moving around to different jobs need to be retrained, but new companies that will come in as suppliers to support Nissan will need to be trained. If the workforce development money is cut, it cuts supplemental training for everyone in the state.
That ultimately affects the tax base and everything else. Even though money from the special session covers Nissan training, it doesn’t cover Nissan suppliers. Ten companies with 100 people each could move in. How will those people be trained?
MBJ: If the proposed community college cuts come to fruition, what impact do you think it will have on attracting new business and industry to the state?
BM: One reason companies move here or expand in Mississippi is because of state-provided training. We compete every day for companies that go over the U.S., asking states, ‘what kind of training are you going to give me if I move here?’ If we can’t provide training resources and other people can, will Nissan suppliers move to the other side of Meridian and get their training from Alabama, and truck their supplies into Nissan? Or choose Memphis and truck them daily? That’s something the legislature and people responsible for workforce training should consider.
MBJ: When will hiring activity begin for the Nissan plant?
BM: We’re in the process of obtaining a temporary office in the Canton area until the training facility is built. A temporary training facility should be operational by July 1, and we’ll move to that facility until the plant itself is finished.
Training and hiring will be done on a just-in-time basis. Because of the extensive training required, industrial maintenance positions will be hired first. Some people won’t be hired for 24 to 28 months. If people are interested in jobs at Nissan, they should check the newspaper for ads or postings with the employment service.
MBJ: Nissan recently announced a goal of 20% minority participation for construction contracts. Is this indicative of the company’s hiring practices?
BM: The employees of Nissan will probably reflect the general population of Mississippi. Nissan is very conscientious about doing things fairly and equally for everyone.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.