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The Challenges of Successful Economic Development

The following is a column by Matt Arnold that ran in local Marshall County Newspapers in February 2019.

“Where are we going to find our workers?”  is a question being asked of myself and many of my counterparts these days.  In December, Marshall County was tied with three other counties in Alabama for the third lowest unemployment rate at 3.0%.  Only Cullman (2.9%) and Shelby (2.5%) Counties were lower.  Recruiting new manufacturers can be a real challenge when the unemployment rate is so low.  Alabama has been very successful in industrial recruitment over the past few years and Marshall County has certainly shared in this good fortune.  We have also been blessed with many existing industry retentions and expansions, even during the difficult economic times of the past ten years. 

Our primary focus has shifted in recent years from industrial recruitment to workforce development.  The MCEDC has always had ongoing efforts in workforce development, but we have recently made it a higher priority as the unemployment rate has fallen.  Prospective companies looking at relocating in Alabama know that this is an issue they will have to deal with because the problem is not just with a few counties.  Counties that are making strides to address these issues are going to get more favorable looks than counties that are not. 

This is why we are diving in full speed on workforce development.  Fortunately, we have a lot of resources.  One of the hallmarks of the Ivey Administration is the emphasis being placed on it.  Alabama Works is a statewide agency divided into regions.  The regional councils, driven by private industry, promote local efforts to help train our youth for the skills of tomorrow.  Programs we are implementing in Marshall County include Industry 101, Junior Achievement, and in the near future, an Educators Academy program. 

Industry 101 gets teachers, counselors and principals directly into the local manufacturers to show them the types of skills that are required in these industries.  You might think, “What usable information can a fourth grade teacher learn from touring Mueller or TSTECH?”  It is not the trade skills like welding or machining that we focus on.  It is the soft skills, skills like teamwork, communication, collaboration, loyalty, and dependability.  These skills are vital to building a quality workforce, and they have to be taught early.  We conducted an Industry 101 last summer for the Marshall County School System, and we will be conducting our second one in February with the Boaz City School System.  Our goal is to continually rotate this program around the county.   

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Industry 101 for the Marshall County School System - August 2018

Our premiere workforce development program is Junior Achievement.  This nationally recognized program teaches students valuable life lessons such as the ones mentioned above.  The MCEDC and the Marshall County Manufacturers Association sponsor this program in all participating middle schools in Marshall County.  We are currently recruiting volunteers to assist in presenting this program.  Our goal is to eventually roll this program out to the high schools and even elementary schools. 

Marshall County is an amazing place to live, work, and do business.  While we do not face the same challenges as some communities, we do have to convince them that this community can overcome the challenges that they may face finding workers, should they choose to locate here.  Workforce development is the key to solving this “nice to have” problem.  The board and staff of the MCEDC are committed to this challenge and are facing it head on and we have willing partners within the cities, the industries, and the local school boards.  Our areas of focus will always be recruitment, retention/expansion, and workforce development.  It’s just that lately, we are focusing a lot more on workforce development to support what we do in recruiting and retaining our local manufacturers.  We feel this will pay out great benefits to our local economy.  

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