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Service Zone expected to employ up to 600 people

CMTE helping communities land new businesses

MAYHEW — If you doubt that workforce education pays off for economic development efforts, then consider the role of the Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence (CMTE) has played in the decision by Service Zone Inc. to locate in nearby Starkville. Simply put, without CMTE, Service Zone, and it’s expected $12.5-million annual payroll, wouldn’t be in the Golden Triangle.

Until this past week, Service Zone, a technical support company for PC original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), was occupying 13,000 square feet of the Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence at East Mississippi Community College’s campus in Mayhew. The company just moved into its new 44,000-square-foot building on 10 acres in the Mississippi Research and Technology Park. The project cost is about $6 million for the facility where 500 to 600 people are expected to be employed by the end of the company’s first two years in the area.

“Without the CMTE to provide us a facility on very short notice it would have been very difficult for us to select Starkville for our new technical support call center,” said John Bray, executive vice president of Service Zone Inc., which is headquartered in Tampa, Fla. “John Rucker and all of the leaders of the CMTE have been extremely cooperative and helpful in making Service Zone’s Starkville project one of the best start-ups I’ve been involved with.

“Starkville is very lucky to have people like John Rucker, Starkville Mayor Mack Rutledge and the board and staff of CMTE who truly care about their community and the people who live and work there. Starkville and the Golden Triangle area and its leaders and employees are some of the best in the world. We hope to have a very long and successful business operation there and look forward to a lot of growth to come.”

John Rucker, executive director of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority (OCEDA), says that without CMTE, their chances for locating Service Zone were slim to none.

“We had no ‘wired’ facility other than CMTE,” Rucker said. “Service Zone’s management was very impressed with the center and the cooperative spirit of East Mississippi Community College, which would assist in the workforce training right there contiguous to the center.”

Rucker said the state-of-the-art advanced workforce training operation will continue to pay big dividends to industry and businesses not only in the Golden Triangle region of Mississippi, but to the entire north Mississippi area. The elements that make CMTE so successful are a professional staff combined with the most technologically advanced equipment that provide an environment for industry and business driven learning.

“Couple these with the existing and ongoing industrial and business training programs at EMCC, the research and technology resources at Mississippi State University, and the dedication by the area’s populace and economic development leaders to be better than the competition, and what you will end up with is the most dynamite and dynamic region anywhere,” Rucker said.

CMTE differs from many of the state’s training centers in that it is there only for industry. It isn’t attached to the community college. Bob Workman, interim director of the CMTE, said that allows them to concentrate completely on meeting the needs of industry.

Service Zone is only one of the 55 companies in five states that have benefited from training at the center since it opened in January 1999. Training, most of it high-tech, has been delivered to 4,500 people.

And the offerings just keep getting better. The center recently received a large order of training equipment for hydraulics, pneumatics and programmable logical computers (PLC), which industry uses to drive their machinery.

“In the past we have had to contract it out and bring in people with the equipment,” Workman said. “Finally we got the money to buy all the training equipment, and now we will be able to do it ourselves and employ local instructors to teach all these different classes and seminars.”

Training is in great demand by industry, especially when the trainers listen to what industry needs. CMTE had focus group meetings with 25 companies to survey them on what was needed, and then programs were based on the type of training needed.

“We didn’t go into this blind,” Workman said. “We went into what industry wants and needs. They have responded very well. You can tell by the number of hours they sent people here.”

Workman said that in addition to increasing the skills of the work force, companies that have participated report that the training has improved their operations and efficiency-and hence, profits.

CMTE also works to be flexible with training hours. It is currently going to a keyless system. After purchasing a card for entry, the facility can be accessed 24 hours per day for training.

“We want to be very, very flexible with our training hours because a lot of our industry around here works around the clock,” Workman said. “The only time they may have to train is on the weekends. That ability to be train on weekends has never been offered before.”

Cary Lewis, president of CMTE’s board of directors and a project manager for Weyerhauser, said that with technology changing so rapidly, it is critical to have a facility that allows the existing workforce to keep up to speed.

“We didn’t have that before,” Lewis said. “The other goal we have that is working quite well is to take people just entering the workforce and give them a quick boost in the latest state-of-the-art technology. This also makes us more attractive for new businesses to relocate in our area. If they don’t have an existing workforce, with CMTE they have the capability to train the workers they need.”

Industries don’t have to be located in close proximity to the CMTE to take advantage of the training opportunities.

“We make ourselves available to anybody in our state,” Lewis said. “The state put up bonds to build this place, so we want to help anybody that we can.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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