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As I See It

Making a sound investment in workforce training

In late September, I had the opportunity to address the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) in Jackson. Every fall, the JLBC begins work toward crafting the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and its members hear testimony from a wide range of state agencies and program advocates to help set funding priorities.

My comments on September 30th centered on the workforce training efforts of our community colleges. As many of you know, I have long been an advocate of fully funding workforce training, as well as a strong believer in Mississippi’s two-year colleges. I have shared these beliefs in my columns, panel discussions and before the JLBC in past years, because I believe strongly that our state’s economic future depends on developing a skilled workforce.

This year, I thought I’d go positive with my time before the JLBC, which was part of a larger presentation from the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.
You’ll find my comments below.

Key ingredients are here — almost

Year after year, you are presented with the negative statistics about the education and skill level of Mississippi workers. I suspect that you are more familiar with the illiteracy rate and the number of adults who have dropped out of the active workforce than I am. Consequently, as a change of pace from all the budget negativity that’s happening this year, I have chosen a more positive approach to make the case for worker training today. I trust that you will not be disappointed to avoid the annual statistical bombardment. Besides, I believe that information has been provided to you in your handout material.

Mississippi has the basic ingredients of economic success at our fingertips.

1. Central location in a fast growing section of the country with easy access to major highways, waterways, rail and air service.

2. Climate that is pleasant to tolerable year-round.

3. Affordable industrial site locations with all the infrastructure, such as roads, water, electricity, sewage, etc.

4. A government with a reputation for being business friendly (that would be you).

5. A favorable tax structure.

6. A more civil, civil justice system.

7. An enviable community college training system.

8. And, an available workforce with strong work ethic.

The missing component

Well then what’s the problem?
The only thing holding us back is the education level of our workers.

Whose fault is it that many of our people don’t have the basic skills to do the jobs of the new century? Opinions would vary on that question, but does fault really matter anyway?
What’s important is that prospective businesses will not come to our state without the availability of state-supported workforce training.

As you all know, that was a basic ingredient in the Nissan package without which they would not be in Canton today. I applaud the efforts made to attract Nissan and I’m extremely pleased that they chose Mississippi. It was a good investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
And, I only use Nissan as an example of the importance of worker training because they are such a success story for our state.

Here’s the question of the day. If it was important to pledge taxpayer funds to attract Nissan to Mississippi, is it any less important to provide worker training to our existing employers who have paid salaries and taxes for years and years? I’m referring to companies like Hol-Mac Corporation in Bay Springs and Ivey Mechanical in Koscuisko and Chevron on the Gulf Coast.

I know the state’s financial situation is tight, tight, tight, but, it’s hard to justify offering training as an incentive for prospective industries while denying the same opportunities to incumbent businesses. Either Mississippi provides state-supported worker training or we don’t. If we do, then is seems that it should be available to existing businesses as well as newcomers.

I don’t envy you the job you have. It will not be possible to make everyone happy. Indeed, I suspect that next year’s budget is going to cause all state agencies some weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Nonetheless, worker training is an investment that pays dividends year after year after year. Later today, you’ll here several success stories about how workforce training has directly and significantly benefited working Mississippians at the Remy Reman plant in Taylorsville and at Northrop Grumman in Pascagoula. These stories are inspiring and make the point that state-supported workforce training is improving the lives of thousands and thousands of ordinary Mississippians.

Our community college system is one of the best in the country. They deliver academic education and worker training in an efficient and effective manner. They are doing the job for Mississippi’s employers and will continue to do it if provided the funding fuel to make the engine run.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today and hope that you will accept my comments in the constructive way they were intended.

Now, let’s hear from you

If you’re like me and believe that fully funding workforce training and supporting our community colleges is vital to business, industry and economic development in Mississippi, then let your legislators hear from you.
Make phone calls. Write letters. Share your own success stories.

Together, we can help move Mississippi forward.

Thought for the Moment—
Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world. — mathematician and inventor Archimedes

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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