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Robust economy in pandemic

by Bob Arnold

Encore Building

Conventional wisdom says the COVID-19 pandemic has tanked the economy, but don't tell that to Stephanie Sullivan, Workforce Education director at Co-Lin, or the economic developers with whom she works.

Sullivan, who is focused on producing Co-Lin's 2021 Pathways Job, points to the enormous need for employees that organizations in the college's district encompassing Adams, Copiah, Franklin, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lincoln and Simpson have indicated. "There seem to be more jobs than workers," she says.

"Economic activity in the area is very robust," observes Sullivan. "Smaller businesses, such as restaurants, which made the 'pandemic pivot' are capitalizing on opportunities to do things differently, attracting customers who want to shop and buy safely. Employers from outside the area are looking for opportunities to build in our green space. Some in bigger places are seeking alternatives in smaller hubs, while others in quieter area are looking for busier spots."

In the immediate area, Copiah and Lincoln Counties are welcoming new employers and gearing up marketing efforts to sell their assets to more organizations looking for a quality workforce, good location and an overall business-friendly environment (see stories elsewhere in this issue), and Sullivan is also seeing similar activity throughout the Co-Lin district.

Building partnerships and relationships with businesses and other employers is the ground of Co-Lin economic development activity and their growing engagement with the Workforce Education division of the college reflects current economic activity, Sullivan says.

As many as sixty organizations could be coming to the Job Fair, and they are seriously hunting for workers even in the midst of COVID-19, she reports. So Co-Lin is designing this year's event for an economy in which employers are ready to hire workers and job-seekers want to do more than casually meet people and learn about organizations, she adds

"We're asking both participating employers and job-seekers to utilize Handshake, an online matchmaking service that connects hiring organizations and potential hirees," Sullivan says. "Both employers and job-seekers complete profiles and then utilize the service to engage. Prospective employees can discover jobs and internships, receive direct messages from employers about jobs and events, connect with employees at organizations and get an inside look at employers and jobs. It is our hope that before the Job Fair, connections can be made and appointments set for serious conversations."

The event is an important part of Co-Lin's economic development mission geared to preparing a skilled labor force in its district, including traditional classroom work leading to Career Tech degrees for regular students, short-term certificate programs for workers, ongoing activities to connect with employers and meet their workforce needs, partnering with economic developers and local government officials who recruit industrial and commercial employers.

Keystone Building

In the past year, Co-Lin started training the skilled workers for the new Keystone Electrical Manufacturing plant that just opened in Brookhaven.

Following a year in which federal dollars geared to pandemic relief and recovery supported free training in a wide variety of areas, including preparation for emergency medical technicians, nurses, medical and legal assistants and welders, Co-Lin will introduce a lineman training course for Southwest, Entergy and Magnolia electrical systems. The 16 week course covers poll climbing and rescue and basic electricity, and awards nine certifications.

This year, Co-Lin will also roll out a class for entrepreneurs throughout the district following its debut last year at Brookhaven Country Club. Designed for persons with a business concept that is in its formative stages or has matured, the class covers business and financial planning and other preliminary steps before going to a bank for a loan. Co-Lin partners with the federal Small Business Administration's Small Business Development Center in producing the 12-hour course delivered in four sessions. Four to six courses will be scheduled over the next 12 months. Also on the training menu for the coming year are courses on flying drones and commercial driving.

Co-Lin's support of the ACT Work Ready program continues In all seven Co-Lin district counties, emerging, existing and transitional workforces have been certified as Work Ready as a result of performance by employees and job seekers on the WorkKeys Assessment administered by the college.

"We're now focused on maintaining the Work Ready status of the counties and helping economic developers and employers use data generated by the testing," Sullivan says.

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