On May 12th at 8:00 a.m in the conference room of fischerUSA Stainless Steel, the first official Industrial Roundtable took place. Plant managers, CEO’s, and Human Resource Managers responded to a call to come together to create an open dialogue and collaborative effort to create a more plentiful, skilled, and stable workforce for industry in Coffee County. This call to action was a direct result of the knowledge gained and realizations made during the Coffee County 2020 – Positioning for Growth conference where one economic development panelist said the best thing he ever did was establish an Industrial Roundtable.
Why a focus on industry? Industry creates jobs which means more citizens with purchasing power in our town, fewer unemployed citizens, and all the financial benefits in direct correlation. A strong and healthy economy requires a vibrant and growing manufacturing sector, and we, at the Manchester Chamber, want to be a proactive part of a stronger business environment in Manchester and across Coffee County.
The Coffee County Industrial Board does a superior job at recruiting great industries. The Joint Industrial Park is a certified site, which means it is shovel-ready and marketable. You can learn more here: http://www.tnecd.com/certified-sites/38/coffee-county-joint-industrial-park/
. But the chamber of commerce wants to do our part to make their job easier by allowing them to tout the tremendous workforce available in and around Coffee County. And while efforts are being made, we want to provide a platform to bring those forces together to assess the needs and address skills gaps where they exist.
Richard Skipper, Director of the Career & Technical Ed program, attended the meeting and pointed out the array of technical skills classes offered at Coffee County High School. His students will soon have the opportunity to get hands-on training at a manufacturing facility in Coffee County through a paid internship, a program mimicking a similar one in Georgia. Skipper stated, “This opportunity will give kids a chance to know they can do something they love right here in their hometown and make a good living at it right out of high school….or they could work there for awhile and decide it’s definitely not their forte.”
Margie Lowe shared personal experience drives her motivation in this effort. “I felt my son was not properly informed or prepared for the opportunities right here in our home town. We have to do a better job of this if we want our children to stay here and thrive here.”
Also in attendance was Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell, who expressed his intentions on establishing a plan to build a tech/skills education facility directly aligned with the skills required of our industries. There is an opportunity to apply for a LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) grant to help in that endeavor, but it will require a partnership with a minimum of three counties in our region.
“If we can align multiple counties to come together, learn together, learn from one another, and begin to meet needs, we can find success, Mayor Cordell expressed. He informed the group that his office just found out about this grant and that the deadline is just around the corner, but they are working diligently to be awarded it.
“Continual learning is important, regardless if it comes in the form of four year degree, tech school, or certified training programs,” Terri Hudson, Executive Director, remarked. “We’ve got to stop using the phrase, ‘College isn’t for everyone’ because that phrase still denotes that a job in manufacturing is second best…these are highly skilled, high-paying jobs.”
We realized during this roundtable that industry in Manchester is strong, but there are opportunities for collaboration that will only further strengthen their effectiveness. Attendees agreed to meet on a quarterly basis. We are excited to be facilitators in this effort toward a strong, vibrant economy in our county.