At the first business meeting held February 18 for the new State Workforce Investment Board, egos and agendas were tossed aside as board members expressed opinions anonymously. No one grabbed center stage, nobody felt pressured, and everyone’s voice was heard via high technology.
“It was great because no one really talked, but everyone seemed comfortable,” said an observer. “The board got to the heart of the matter very quickly.”
The giant step toward developing a stronger workforce in Mississippi was largely attributed to Tommye Favre, whom Gov. Haley Barbour tapped last August to head the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, formerly known as the Mississippi Employment Security Commission. The 600-person agency was restructured July 1 as a result of the Workforce Development Act of 2004, which required a sweeping overhaul of the state’s workforce training efforts.
Among other mandates, Favre, a former human resources executive for Pascagoula-based Mississippi Power Company, was charged with merging the State Workforce Development Council, overseer of state workforce dollars, with the State Workforce Investment Board, which oversees federal workforce dollars. The new State Workforce Investment Board coordinates both state and federal workforce dollars.
For the meeting, Barbara Marino from the Stennis Space Institute was recruited to lead the group discussion. After briefly saying hello, participants were ushered to individual computers connected to a mainframe. When asked a question, board members keyed in the answers at the same time via computer and immediately viewed the results by consensus.
“Using the computer planning session was excellent,” said Favre. “The group focused on the activity, kept sideline conversations at a minimum, and the end result was a draft plan in four hours. Unheard of!”
The board identified as its top five priorities: accountability, reduction of redundancies and administration, involvement of business in training needs for the present and the future, an easy-to-use process for users of services and an action plan with clear deliverables and implementation schedule, said Favre.
“We are truly not seeing issues resulting from the merger of the two boards,” she said. “The participants are eager to focus on the job at hand rather than dwell on the way things worked in the past.”
Favre said a clear delineation emerged between the first group of broad goals and another group of more specific goals.
“I take from that that most people have a real feel for where workforce training in Mississippi should be headed,” she said.
The State Workforce Investment Board faces a May deadline to send a strategic plan to the U.S. Labor Department, one that Favre believes will be met.
“Strategic planning is always a tough but a necessary evil,” she said, “but with the progress that has been made thus far — we came away from our first meeting with a draft strategic plan and are moving forward to the tactical stage — I think we will meet that deadline.”
George Walker, founder of Delta Wire in Cleveland in 1978 and former co-chair of the State Workforce Development Council, was unable to attend the initial 2005 meeting because he presided over a statutory meeting of the State Board of Community and Junior College at the same time, but said he’s very excited about “the thrust and goals” of the new State Workforce Investment Board.
“I’m very, very excited about the whole idea, and very hopeful of economic development,” he said.
Overall, organizing the new department is going very well, said Favre.
“We have defined our mission as ‘Increasing Employment in Mississippi,’ and set about the business of making sure everyone understands employment as the primary function of this agency,” she said. “We do not want to be known as the Unemployment Office! Also, we are evaluating our WIN Job Centers and working on some standards for those offices, as well as entering into a major re-engineering process.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.
Members of the governor-appointed Workforce Investment Board, who will serve four-year terms, are:
• Hancock Bank CEO George A. Schloegel of Gulfport, chairman of the Workforce Investment Board
• Association of Planning and Development Districts representative Clarke Holmes of Ridgeland
• Charles B. Holder of Hol-Mac in Bay Springs
• Delta Wire founder George Walker of Clarksdale
• Dennis Kokaisel of Carrollton, Viking Range
• Jim Lott of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security
• Dwain Stevens of Madison, Stuart Irby Company
• Galen Medlin, human resources director for Nissan Canton
• Jimmy Alexander of Meridian
• Labor organization representative Tim Davis of Brandon
• Lida Lambert of First Tower Corporation in McComb
• Michael Thomas of Red Hill Mine in Ackerman
• Mississippi Association of Supervisors’ Joel Yelverton, Clinton
• Mississippi Manufacturers Association president Jay Moon
• Mississippi Municipal League interim executive director George E. Lewis of Clinton
• Northrop Grumman’s Jim Cassady of Gautier
• Richard K. Furr, Wesson, State Bank & Trust
• Robert Clark of Pickens
• Ron Aldridge, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Jackson
• MBJ publisher Joe D. Jones, Jackson
• Stephen Will, Corinth, Kimberly-Clark
• Trent A. Mulloy of Laurel Foundry, Laurel
• Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis
• Washington County Supervisor Paul Watson Jr.
• Youth activities organization rep. Joe B. Morton of Ripley
• Michael Duncan Hall of New Albany
• Roland Kell of Pascagoula
• Tommye Dale Favre, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, Jackson
• Don Taylor, executive director of the Mississippi Department ofHuman Services, Jackson
• H.S. Butch McMillan, executive director of the MississippiDepartment of Rehabilitation Services, Jackson
• Henry Johnson, State Superintendent of Education, Jackson
• Leland Speed, executive director, Mississippi Development Authority, Jackson
• Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, Jackson
• Linda Gates, representative of the Mississippi PartnershipWorkforce Area, Mayhew
• Yvonne Brown, representative of Delta Workforce area, Holmes
• Dr. Ronald Whitehead, president of Jones County Junior College
— Mississippi Department of Employment Security