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Businesses, industry profiting from college

ECCC playing important role in communities it serves

DECATUR — It’s easy to see that the roles East Central Community College (ECCC) plays are important to business, industry and economic development in Newton County and surrounding counties in East Central Mississippi.

In Morton there is a learning center manned by the college at CraftCo Enterprises Inc. where various courses are offered, and in Louisville, Taylor Machine Works Inc. also benefits from ECCC.

The college recently unveiled its new Productivity Enhancement Training lab at the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Vocational-Technical Center, a division of ECCC. Also, area employers in search of potential employees are being told to mark their calendars for Mar. 26 when ECCC holds its second-annual Business, Education and Healthcare Expo on the Decatur campus.

“We’re serving the needs of the local community,” said Dr. Phil Sutphin, president of ECCC. “We’re also trying to assist local areas in the recruitment of business prospects when at all possible.”

ECCC can help develop skilled workforce

Sutphin said he and others are trying to get the word out that ECCC and other Mississippi community and junior colleges can help to develop a highly skilled workforce. But, he added, “When a student graduates from a skilled program there needs to be a job for that person to take. We’re caught in that now and we’re trying to do our part.”

ECCC offers education and training needs to Leake, Newton, Neshoba, Scott and Winston counties. The college’s 2001-2002 for-credit enrollment is 2,345 students who take academic, technical or vocational coursework, and there are 1,894 noncredit students served through adult education classes that lead to the GED. Another 11,694 people participate in workforce training activities through the ECCC’s Workforce Development Center. Academic for-credit course offerings range from liberal arts to engineering.

“We’re providing a niche here that can be helpful in developing the workforce,” Sutphin said.

Roger Whitlock, director of workforce development for ECCC, believes the college is the entity that is most able to respond quickly to maintain and enhance the current workforce of East Central Mississippi. He added that the college was equally important in addressing any transition-type training from existing to new skill sets that might need to be provided.

“I believe we can respond more quickly to those requests than a high school,” Whitlock said. He added, “We’re dedicated to the provision of quality training for existing employers and as a lure to potential employers in this district.”

Jim Finley, president and CEO of CraftCo, the state representative for the ECCC Workforce Council and a board member of the Workforce Investment Act for the state, said ECCC and the learning center at CraftCo are important to the success of the area and to the success of the state.

“Morton has lost a number of industries over the past year including Peavey and International Paper and others, but we’re still holding firm there and helping to assist in the training needs of Morton and CraftCo through East Central Community College,” Finley said.

CraftCo produces electronic components for the automotive industry, and its current customer base includes direct sales to Ford, General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Jaguar and Saab.

“East Central is a tool to assist in improving our training needs, which is probably the biggest hurdle we have in the state at a time when new businesses are coming in and needing trained employees,” Finley said. “We’re very closely tied to East Central in terms of meeting our training needs to be competitive,” Finley said.

But, Finley added, it is important that a high school diploma become a given in today’s society and that more technically oriented classes continue to be offered at ECCC.

“That’s where the real need is as it relates to attracting new businesses and maintaining existing businesses in the state,” Finley said. “We need to get more involved in the skill levels that are above the basic high school education. We need to be competitive not just in cost but in terms of our skill level as well.”

Rodis Shealy, manufacturing engineering group leader with Taylor Machine Works Inc. is also the chair of workforce development for ECCC. He said ECCC has been and remains important to East Central Mississippi.

“Strictly from our business dealings with them at Taylor, they’re doing anything we need them to do,” Shealy said. “They’re responding any way we ask them to as far as workforce training is concerned.”

Taylor Machine Works is a family-owned company that manufactures large material handling equipment and sells its product worldwide.

“We do everything from raw material to the finished product and everything in between,” Shealy said. “It takes a very skilled workforce.” Because of that, ECCC is an asset to Taylor Machine Works.

“They’ve never turned us down on anything we’ve asked them to do,” Shealy said.

Perhaps what Shealy considers most important about ECCC though is its support of existing industry in the area.

“They (ECCC) recognize that’s the backbone of the whole community,” Shealy said. “They support us and are constantly trying to get us to stay up on anything we need. They’ve been real helpful on helping us to upgrade. Look at the importance of existing industry. You’ve got to take care of them (existing industry) first and foremost.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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