Cover Story: Workforce Training Is Job One

By Jenny Vickers
From the March/April 2015 issue

Workforce development is one of the top issues facing U.S. manufacturers and many other industries today. Believe it or not, the United States has a shortage of skilled workers—preparing a workforce with the advanced skills required in the 21st century is Job One in the competition for new projects.

Several states are leading the way in preparing potential employees and matching them to available jobs. In this report, Business Facilities examines the workforce development programs that have deployed the most successful strategies. The locations who are ahead of the curve are starting early, linking their educational systems to growth-sector businesses and creating curricula which ensures that students are ready to fill new high-tech jobs the minute they graduate.

Workforce development programs also offer training opportunities that enable unemployed or underemployed adults to return to the workforce or acquire or retain a job in their community. Participants in these programs graduate with credentials and/or skills that can help them obtain a job and, potentially, build a life-long career.

A workforce development network consists of a public-private partnership among government, industry and educational institutions whose goal is to work together to enhance the availability of job training services and resources and spur the development and expansion of key regional industry clusters. In this report, we’ll take a close look at innovative programs that focus on finding the nexus between economic development and workforce development.


The Alabama Industrial Training Program (AIDT), the state’s primary workforce training program, is helping train Alabamians with the specific skills needed for new and expanding industry. Since 1971, the program has played a critical role in building the state’s automotive, aerospace, metals and shipbuilding industries, training over 600,000 people and assisting over 3,300 companies with workforce training.

Joining Gov. Robert Bentley (second from right) in cutting the ribbon of the AIDT Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham are (from left) Fairfield’s Rod Scott, Homewood’s Paul DeMarco and Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
Joining Gov. Robert Bentley (second from right) in cutting the ribbon of the AIDT Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham are (from left) Fairfield’s Rod Scott, Homewood’s Paul DeMarco and Birmingham Mayor William Bell. (Photo:

AIDT has promoted growth in Alabama through customized workforce training that’s free to companies and trainees. AIDT’s expertise in recruitment and pre-employment training assists existing companies and plays a major role in economic development.

AIDT operates training centers throughout the state, each one tailored to develop and build upon the region’s existing strengths: engineering, manufacturing and automotive in Huntsville; forest products in Opelika; robotics in Tanner; and aviation, chemical, telecommunications, maritime and other industries in Mobile.

One of the newest training centers to open is the $7 million AIDT Alabama Aviation Training Center in Mobile. The center, which opened last summer, will help prepare a skilled workforce for Airbus’ new U.S. passenger jet factory, which is now under construction at the Mobile Aeroplex.

The new Airbus assembly operation will begin delivering its Alabama-made Airbus A320 Family aircraft to customers in early 2016. The factory will be one of only three in the U.S. where large passenger jets are assembled.

The new Airbus facility, along with AIDT’s new aviation training center, will help further expand the state’s robust aerospace industry, which comprises about 83,000 aerospace-related workers for 400 aerospace companies. Airbus facilities will add 1,000 new jobs to that.

The new center includes six classrooms and labs, making it capable of training scores of skilled workers that could end up assembling Airbus aircraft.

“This is more than a building. It’s actually a milestone,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield at the opening event. “It’s the next step in a partnership. This is more than a training center…this building represents dreams. The people who come through here will see their lives changed forever.”

AIDT opened another new training center, the Alabama Workforce Training Center, last spring. The new 56,000-square-foot facility, located in Birmingham, the state’s largest metro area, will allow for manufacturers, contractors and other industries to link up with AIDT along with public education and the two-year and even four-year colleges to equip students with specific skills needed to fill jobs.

“This training center will provide a turnkey trained workforce for employers in the Birmingham region,” said Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) President and CEO Brian Hilson at the opening. “Alabama Workforce Training Center-trained workers will have the skills necessary to meet the industry needs of employers in our community.”

Training at the Birmingham facility will be conducted by AIDT staffers, as well as trainers and vendors affiliated with industry partners. The customized training will be designed to meet immediate workplace needs and allow trainees to receive certifications that designate specific skills.

In addition to the new training facilities, AIDT is in the midst of expanding its Robotics Technology Park (RTP) in Tanner.

The RTP is considered one of the most innovative training centers in the world, receiving Business Facilities “Achievement in Workforce Development Award” last year. At the RTP, manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda and Navistar train on the latest equipment from the world’s top industrial robot makers and automation software firms.

In October 2014, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to announce Phase III of the project: a new 50,000-square-foot building designed to let employees of companies train on new equipment and software before a company installs it in a factory.

“The Alabama Robotics Technology Park is one of the biggest assets we can have for companies,” Gov. Bentley said in June, when he released $6 million for the expansion. “The park allows us to provide an opportunity for a technically trained, highly skilled and educated workforce for jobs in Alabama.

The park’s Phase 1 building, which covers 60,000 square feet, is equipped with 40 robots and a lab for automated welding where technicians learn how to maintain automated equipment. The Phase II building, which covers 43,000 square feet, allows company workers to test new robots or other automated equipment. Outside is a mile-long track for testing unmanned vehicles. Phase III will now give companies a place to build, test and adapt manufacturing lines for new uses.

Once the expansion is complete, the RTP’s three facilities will have a total investment topping $73 million.

In Huntsville, AIDT is focused on building upon the region’s engineering and manufacturing prowess. Huntsville, which has a population of 180,000, is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which has played a major role in U.S. space exploration, and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal. Many aerospace companies have operations in the city, including Raytheon and Boeing, which recently announced plans to open a technology research center.

The north Alabama high-tech hub also is a manufacturing center. The Toyota facility, now undergoing its fifth significant expansion in a decade, is the automaker’s only location in the world that produces four-cylinder, V-6 and V-8 engines under one roof.

The region recently scored two notable economic successes: leading off-road vehicle producer Polaris is building a new $142-million plant and pioneering firearms maker Remington Outdoor Co. is building a $110-million factory.

AIDT will assist Polaris in assembling and preparing its workforce to design a new generation of off-road vehicles. The company announced in January 2014 that the new facility will help create 1,700 new jobs.

Polaris, which recorded 2013 sales of $3.8 billion, produces all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and side-by-side vehicles. The company owns the Victory and Indian motorcycle brands, and it is actively advancing the development of electric/hybrid powered vehicles.

The company studied more than 100 sites in 14 states before choosing Alabama. Polaris said Huntsville was an ideal pick for its new 600,000-square-foot facility because of the city’s skilled workforce, a history of technology and innovation, existing utility infrastructure, and local and state support.

Polaris’ announcement came almost exactly a year after Remington unveiled plans to build a $110 million factory in Huntsville that will eventually employ more than 2,000 people. AIDT is working with Remington to identify, train and hire workers for the Huntsville site. The company plans to carry out R&D at the facility.


A workforce preparation program started five years ago in central Kentucky has been so successful it is now expanding into a statewide organization. The program, known as KY FAME, enables students to earn an Advanced Manufacturing degree and then enter into a career with little to no debt. The goal is to help address the shortage of technically skilled workers needed in Kentucky’s advanced manufacturing industry.

“KY FAME’s primary focus is to partner with educational institutions to create academic programs that will lead students and adult learners to careers of the future,” said Josh Benton, Executive Director of Workforce Development at the Kentucky Cabinet of Economic Development.

KY FAME offers an innovative, apprentice-style education and training program. Employers start training students while they are still in school. Students receive hands-on and classroom training that gives them access to high-paying advanced manufacturing jobs. The National Career Pathway Network recognized the program as the Best Career Pathway Program in the U.S. in 2013.

Created in 2010 at the Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, the Bluegrass (Central Kentucky) chapter of KY Fame has 16 companies, including Toyota, Link Belt, Commonwealth Tool and 3M. More than 40 students have completed the program and more than 80 are currently enrolled.

Under the expansion, three new KY FAME chapters are being created in addition to the Bluegrass chapter.

The new chapters will be in greater Louisville, Northern Kentucky and the Elizabethtown/Lincoln Trail regions. With the three new chapters, there will be an additional 75 students in the fall semester of 2015. The federation’s goal is to expand to all four corners of the state.

“KY FAME provides tremendous benefits to both students and companies,” said Gov. Steve Beshear in a media release. “This is a great opportunity for our state’s youth to gain the hands-on experience needed to achieve quality careers and gives companies a stronger workforce to choose from—both of which are very important components in growing our state’s economy. I’m excited to see KY FAME expand and I look forward to the federation creating a statewide workforce that’s second to none.”

The program’s roots began with Toyota, one of the state’s biggest employers. The company launched the program in 2010 to train workers needed to replace retiring maintenance personnel. Toyota partnered with other companies, state level partners and the Kentucky Community and Technical College system to create an Advanced Manufacturing Technician program.

“That’s when the company and industry partnership known as KY FAME began,” said Benton. “Toyota is an amazing community partner and deserves a lot of credit for this. KY FAME started out small but over the years the partnership has grown. Our goal is to see a chapter in every region of Kentucky by the end of the year.”

KY FAME enables students in Kentucky to earn an advanced manufacturing degree with little or no debt, helping to fill the workforce needs of the Bluegrass State’s expanding high-tech sector.
KY FAME enables students in Kentucky to earn an advanced manufacturing degree with little or no debt, helping to fill the workforce needs of the Bluegrass State’s expanding high-tech sector. (Photo:

Kim Menke, manager of government affairs for Toyota, said in a media release that KY FAME has produced tremendous results for the company. Toyota is one of the biggest employers participating in the program, but small businesses have had success with it as well.

Program participants attend classes two days a week at their local community college and work an additional 24 hours per week for a sponsoring employer. Upon completion of the program, students receive an associate degree in Applied Sciences, and, with the practical skills gained during their paid work experience, most begin full-time employment with the sponsor. Others may decide to get an engineering degree.

“KY FAME is helping to create a direct pipeline of talent,” said Benton. “The biggest growth criteria that exists for companies in Kentucky and everywhere in the U.S. is the availability of a skilled workforce. This industry-led initiative is something we use to proactively increase the skill levels of Kentuckians.”

The concept of expanding KY FAME is one part of a three-pronged approach that a coalition of manufacturers are taking to address the skills gap through the Bluegrass Economic Advancement, or BEAM, initiative.

Launched in 2011, the BEAM initiative seeks to build on the Lexington and Louisville region’s existing strengths of robust manufacturing and innovation. The 22-county region forms a distinctive region of “makers”—manufacturing that creates quality jobs and drives innovation from Ford and Toyota motor vehicles, to state-of-the-art GE appliances, from the sprawling plants of those major multi-nationals to more than 1,600 firms producing a wide variety of goods, including 95 percent of the world’s bourbon.

Benton says a consistent theme in these industries is highly technical machinery and the need for individuals with a high level of technology expertise to be able to operate it.

“With manufacturing, technology rapidly changes over time,” said Benton. “Companies are looking for employees with a higher quality skill set. Programs and partnerships like KY FAME are helping raise those skill levels to meet the growing demands of Kentucky’s industry base.”

Tying all of the workforce resources in the state is the Kentucky Skills Network, a collaborative partnership of the state’s workforce partners, including the Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Education and Workforce Cabinet, and Labor Cabinet.

The network provides workforce services to business and industry including free recruitment services, customized training at a reduced cost, training incentives and workforce preparation initiatives. Last year, the network trained over 84,000 Kentucky employees representing over 4,100 companies.

“We have significant reach,” said Benton. “As our unemployment rate attests it has dropped significantly. Considering that at height of recession we were over 10 percent unemployment and now we are at 5.2 percent, it is a testament that the system is working. The Kentucky Skills Network helps employers find people and people find jobs.”


With a looming worker shortage triggered by waves of Baby Boomer retirements, Minnesota has its eye on the prize to ensure Minnesota’s key industries have a ready supply of skilled workers. It has developed top-notch workforce training programs such as the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership (MJSP) and a proposed Pathways to Prosperity Initiative that would help train people for jobs now and into the future.

“Thanks to our workforce development programs, there are more Minnesotans on payroll than ever before,” said Katie Clark Sieben, Commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Economic & Employment Development (DEED). “We served nearly 250,000 people in 2014 through our various workforce programs, services and centers.”

The Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership (MJSP) is a public-private collaboration that works strategically with companies and educational institutions to train or retrain workers and expand work opportunities. MJSP can provide up to $400,000 for training new and existing employees of businesses who partner up with an accredited Minnesota educational institution. The schools, in turn, develop and deliver training that is specific to what the business needs. And the program ensures that businesses participate by requiring at least a one-to-one dollar match.

In 2014 alone, MJSP assisted 64 businesses, trained 10,394 workers, and awarded 49 grants totaling $8.7 million, which resulted in $20.5 million in contributions from businesses.

About 70 percent of MJSP grants go to manufacturing companies. One of every seven jobs in Minnesota is related to manufacturing and they currently pay about 20 percent more than competing industries.

Such well-known companies as Arctic Cat, Polaris, Boston Scientific and Medtronic have participated in the program, using the grants to help defray training-related costs such as curriculum development, instruction, materials and supplies, equipment and instructor travel.

MJSP grants also have helped one of the region’s top employers, Alexandria Industries, take training into its own hands.

The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership supports workforce training like this session conducted by Ben Bomstad (left), Corporate Trainer, Alexandria Industries and Greg Sandeno, Manufacturing Specialist (right), at Alexandria Technical and Community College’s Customized Training Center.
The Minnesota Job Skills Partnership supports workforce training like this session conducted by Ben Bomstad (left), Corporate Trainer, Alexandria Industries and Greg Sandeno, Manufacturing Specialist (right), at Alexandria Technical and Community College’s Customized Training Center. (Photo: Alexandria Industries.)

Alexandria Industries, a manufacturing company with locations in Alexandria and Wheaton in Minnesota as well as Dallas and Indianapolis, specializes in aluminum extrusion, finishing, molding, precision machining, welding and assembly. The company services a wide variety of industries from recreation, medical equipment, firearms, solar, LED lighting, power tools and more.

The nearly 50-year-old company has experienced incredible growth over the years, creating Alexandria Finishing and acquiring Alexandria-based Doege Precision Machining, Indianapolis-based MidAmerica Extrusions and Dallas-based M&M Metals. In the midst of its fourth MJSP grant, the company has partnered with Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) to develop a series of successful workforce development programs.

“When you look at MJSP, the P stands for partnership, they’ve really been a great partner with us and ATCC,” said Lynette Kluver, director of organizational development at Alexandria Industries. “We’ve had a great partnership with the college for our entire existence. They’ve really been the there for us for all of our machinists and many of our other technical positions. Our ability to identify training needs and take them to the college and work with MJSP to help provide funding has really allowed us to develop our skilled workforce.”

One of the programs, called the Leadership Academy, is an innovative two-year program that was designed to train employees on a variety of issues, give them better self-awareness and steep them in company culture.

“The Leadership Academy helps employees take what perhaps was an entry level position, identify a career path and then grow it into something more,” said Kluver.

For example, Jason Bachman, one of the first graduates of the Leadership Academy, started as an aluminum extrusion supervisor for Alexandria Industries, and is now a general manager for the company’s MidAmerica facility in Indianapolis.

“It’s the best experience I’ve had as a leader,” said Bachman. “I’ve learned so much about myself and what my purpose is. I’ve learned it isn’t always about just getting the work done, but taking the time to know my team and give them the tools and resources to do their job well.”

The latest MJSP grant is helping the company develop three new educational training programs: Leadership101, Manufacturing Academy and Master’s Academy.

“These programs have a three category approach to it,” said Ben Bomstad, corporate trainer for Alexandria Industries. “One is the professional side which expands on our Leadership Academy with different classes to help develop those skills. The other is the business side from a foundational level to a mastery level. And the third is the manufacturing side which gives people the key skills to step right into the manufacturing environment that they may not be familiar with.”

To date, Alexandria Industries has leveraged almost $2 million dollars in training grants from MJSP and other state institutions. This has enabled the company to train all of its almost 550 employees in Minnesota.

“This has created an opportunity for us to develop customized programs with ATCC,” said Kluver. “But it also has given us access to other subject matter experts within the Minnesota State College and University System, so these relationships have allowed us to get the best of the best.”

With about 26 percent of employees at Alexandria Industries being 55 years of age and older, the grants have helped the company ensure a full pipeline of talent can step into senior-level leadership roles as people retire.

While the MJSP has been a boon to industry, the Minnesota Pathways to Prosperity Initiative is a new program proposed by Minnesota’s Governor that would focus on basic skills and career training for low-income and “educationally under-prepared” workers who have no post-secondary education or career credentials.

The Pathways to Prosperity initiative would merge two of the state’s already successful programs—Minnesota FastTRAC (short for Fast Training, Resources and Credentialing) and Adult Workforce Development Competitive Grant. These programs focus on giving workers a post-secondary credential that is valued by employers.

FastTRAC provides career credentials in healthcare, child development, manufacturing, customer services and welding.

“Talent development is our answer to addressing employment disparity,” said Katie Clark Sieben, DEED Commissioner. “Our workforce development programs ensure expanded work opportunities for employees and a solid footing for new entrants to the job market.”


LED FastStart is considered the benchmark of excellence for employment training in Louisiana. Founded in 2008, Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s (LED) FastStart job training program has been called “the most notable workforce-development initiative” by The Economist, and it has been named the nation’s leading state workforce program by Business Facilities.

LED FastStart provides customized employee recruitment, screening, training development and training delivery for eligible, new or expanding companies—all at no cost. To qualify, companies must be within Louisiana’s target industries and manufacturers must create a net of at least 15 new direct jobs and service industries a net of at least 50 new direct jobs.

Since January 2008, the state has seen growth of more than 88,300 new private sector jobs to date. FastStart’s training and technology professionals build a thoroughly customized plan for each client, getting to know the company from the inside out. And that approach, along with world-class technology and tools, has paid great dividends for Louisiana and the companies that are expanding there.

“We started LED FastStart a little over six years ago and there is nothing else like it, said Jeff Lynn, Executive Director of Workforce Development Programs for LED FastStart. “Since we began LED FastStart, our technology and innovation has become a leading decision-maker for companies to move here.”

Since LED FastStart was launched in 2008, the program has helped 147 projects and trained 24,276 people.

One of the fastest growing sectors for Louisiana is its IT industry centered in New Orleans, the number 1 metro for IT job growth according to Forbes. FastStart is playing a key role in creating a pipeline of highly skilled software development workers for these industries.

LED FastStart has assisted with projects such as Paris-based Gameloft’s 150-job studio in New Orleans and Chicago-based High Voltage Software (HVS) which started operations at its new 80-person game development studio in New Orleans earlier this year. It continues to assist in the growth of companies such as GE Capital Technology, which has created 220 jobs since opening in New Orleans in 2012, and IBM, which announced an 800-person software development center in Baton Rouge in 2013 and recently announced a new 400-person tech center in Monroe.

“We played a big part in these companies coming to Louisiana and their growth,” said Lynn. “We continue to invest in FastStart every year and the state is really addressing and listening to the workforce needs, which is really making a difference to our clients.”

Since its move to New Orleans in 2012, GE Capital Technology has hired over 125 IT professionals from across the region and is looking to bring even more dynamic IT talent to downtown New Orleans. By 2015, GE Capital plans to produce a total of 300 jobs with salaries ranging from $60,000 to $100,000, plus benefits that will support the company’s continued growth as a leader in the city’s growing technology sector.

In January 2014, GE Capital Technology partnered with the University of New Orleans (UNO) to create a Software Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SWEAP) which provides students with real-world software development work experience and intensive software industry training to supplement academic curriculum.

“The big problem is that students graduate, but can’t get into workforce because companies look for someone with two to five years of experience,” said Lynn. “SWEAP provides them with that real work experience in their junior and senior years by working on real projects at GE Capital.”

In February 2015, IBM Corp. announced it is creating 400 new jobs in Monroe during the next 10 years. The State is providing $4.5 million in higher education funding at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Louisiana Tech University and Grambling State University to create more computer science graduates to meet workforce needs.

IBM’s service center, which will be built across from CenturyLink’s headquarters, will serve both CenturyLink and other customers.

“This is a combination of two great companies creating the kind of high tech jobs in Louisiana that will give our kids a career path that allows them to stay in the region and the state,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a media statement.

CenturyLink, the largest public company headquartered in Louisiana, is in the midst of an 850-job expansion in Monroe and is building the CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence, a 300,000-plus square-foot addition to its HQ.

In Monroe, IBM will work with the LED FastStart program on recruiting initiatives, including campus events in Louisiana and neighboring states as well as via social media, alumni events and the development of recruiting materials.

LED FastStart also is helping close the skills job gap that exists in its manufacturing sector—there are currently thousands of jobs available. To support clients in finding top skilled talent for their advanced manufacturing jobs, FastStart created a new stackable certification program called C4M (Certification for Manufacturing), which is offered at high schools and Louisiana Community and Technical College campuses throughout the state.

This certification program provides high school students with the opportunity to complete a high school degree while simultaneously acquiring a certification with skills relevant to the manufacturing industry.

“Just under 100 students have been trained in a few months,” said Lynn. “They receive a C4M certification which can help them go straight to work or continue their education via articulation to all of the two year schools and some four year schools.”

Perhaps one of FastStart’s biggest success stories is Benteler Steel/Tube, which is building a new $975 million manufacturing complex, creating 675 new direct jobs with an average salary of $50,000 per year, plus benefits. To date, FastStart has spent almost 8,000 hours training 415 Benteler workers.

In November 2014, LED FastStart along with state and local partners announced it is building a new $22 million Advanced Manufacturing Center at Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) to help train workers for Benteler’s new manufacturing complex and support training efforts for other manufacturers in the Northwest region of Louisiana.

“One of the reasons why Benteler selected Louisiana, among other reasons, was FastStart,” said Lynn. “We saw that they needed to have a significant amount of training and recruitment and we went so far to partner with the State, Benteler and regional and local partners to build a brand new 65,000 square-foot training center.”

At the BPCC center, LED FastStart and Benteler will train workers on a mock steel-tube rolling station that simulates production in the future facility in Shreveport. A computer lab, classrooms, and technical training space will be joined by forklifts, overhead cranes, programmable logic controllers and other equipment that will help prepare employees for manufacturing assignments.”


A new program in the Greater Memphis region is tying college training and skills directly to workforce needs in order to help more people qualify for high-wage, high-quality jobs.

Known as the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce (GMACW), the program aims to train workers, fill jobs and help companies locate to and expand in the state. The program will initially focus on the local logistics, manufacturing and biomedical device engineering industries, with an eye on incorporating more of the area’s strengths, such as allied health and information technology, in the future.

GMACW is a strategic consortium of educational institutions, workforce agencies, economic development entities and employers established in the fall of 2014 to help solve Greater Memphis’ skills gap. In 2013, 16,000 jobs in the Greater Memphis region went unfilled.

“Our initial objective is to train 2,000 people a year in logistics jobs and 1,000 people a year in manufacturing jobs,” said Dexter Muller, Senior Advisor at the Greater Memphis Chamber.

In December 2014, the program received $743,500 in grant funding from the State of Tennessee through the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP). These state funds were supported by private sector funds and other federal grants as part of a five-year, $5 million initial budget.

“This workforce initiative is key to growing the middle class in Memphis as well as to meeting the needs of industry,” said Phil Trenary, President and CEO, Greater Memphis Chamber. “With over 100 CEOs in our Chamber’s Chairman Circle backing this public-private partnership, we are confident this is a game-changer.”

The GMACW hired Dr. Glen Fenter, a highly accomplished and nationally-recognized advocate for aligning education with jobs, as its CEO and President. Dr. Fenter has served as president of Mid-South Community College since its inception for the past 22 years.

“I’m incredibly excited to be leading this initiative that will transform our region and grow our economy by helping ensure that the skills of our people are more consistently matched with the hiring needs of industry,” said Dr. Fenter.

Fenter said the main function of the program is to catalyze a pipeline of skilled workers by better aligning K12 and post-secondary programs with employer needs and with each other.

GMACW had its origins in two initiatives. The first was under the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairmen’s Circle, a group of more than 100 business leaders whose mission is to support transformative strategies to enhance the Memphis region’s economic vitality. This resulted in four “Moon Missions”—initiatives aimed to foster sustainability and growth in the Memphis area—one of which one was the “Harvard Tech” workforce development strategy.

“We first called it Harvard Tech because we decided Memphis needed to become the Harvard of technical schools,” said Muller. “We need to be recognized as a community that’s so good at workforce development that we can fill those 16,000 vacant jobs and more.”

The second initiative was the development of a regional economic development plan that was guided by the Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) with support from the Brookings Institution. “Over time these two initiatives merged and the result was the creation of GMACW,” said Fenter.

The GMACW initiative wouldn’t be possible without an agreement between two of the region’s most prominent technical schools, Southwest Tennessee Community College and Mid-South Community College. The colleges have committed to the creation of the Mid-South Manufacturing/Distribution Training and Education Institute.

This Institute will include programs that are employer-driven and advanced laboratories that provide students access to real-world workplace environments. In an historic arrangement for colleges in two separate states, they are sharing faculty, facilities and resources to better equip students with industrial training. They have developed programs that provide students with industry-required certifications to allow for faster entry into jobs, while also allowing for application towards an associate or advanced science degree.

“It is extremely important that the people in our region have access to education pathways that provide them the skills for jobs and the ability to continue along a pathway towards higher skills and better jobs,” said Fenter.

Currently, GMACW is in the initial implementation phase of a U.S. Department of Labor grant in the amount of $9.8 million that provides postsecondary partners funding to support increased capacity (faculty, equipment, etc.) to create career pathways and train 1,500 workers for the manufacturing and transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL) sectors.

GMACW also is implementing the Tennessee Labor-Education Alignment Program (LEAP) grant to support alignment of the secondary and postsecondary systems in the creation of pathways that start with concurrent credit high school programs through associate of applied science degrees and culminate with a bachelor of applied science degree.

“Under the LEAP grant, GMACW will also develop an interactive website to support workers, students and employers, as well as a data acquisition and analysis system,” said Fenter.

GMACW is actively engaged in providing workforce support to Coca-Cola, the Medical Device Council employers, Electrolux, Hino Motors and most recently, Target Corporation, which announced a new 900,000-square-foot fulfillment center in December 2014, creating 400 new jobs in Memphis. Target conducted a multi-state search and selected Memphis based on competitive costs, availability of workforce, local and state support and accessibility.


Workforce development is one of the five components of Blueprint Mississippi, a strategic plan for economic development in Mississippi, and a top priority for Gov. Phil Bryant, who proposed a $50-million investment in workforce training in this year’s state budget.

“We realize that finding a job can and has changed lives for the better, so we must do all in our power to put people to work,” said Gov. Bryant. “Tonight, I am announcing the Keep Mississippi Working Fund—a program that will move nearly $50 million over the next two years without putting a demand on the General Fund.”

The governor also called on the Legislature to fund a $3 million scholarship program for high school students in career tech programs to pursue skills certifications and academic degrees at community and junior colleges.

“I believe with these two programs, we can focus on creating a world-class workforce. With that accomplished, our economic progress can be unlimited,” said Gov. Bryant.

In December 2014, Blueprint Mississippi launched its Social Business Challenge. The Challenge invites teams of students from Mississippi Public Universities to develop ideas for solving the state’s most pressing problems, while learning important lessons about planning, teamwork and presenting ideas.

“Mississippi’s universities are hotbeds of innovation, and this exercise underscores the valuable contributions these institutions make to the entire state,” Gov. Bryant said. “These students are the leaders of tomorrow, and I know they are up to the task of developing creative ways to address any challenge that is put before them. I look forward to seeing the results of their efforts.”

To prepare a workforce ready to meet the demands of today’s industries, Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) focuses on the real-world needs of the state’s advanced manufacturers. CAVS delivers engineering and technical assistance to the automotive industry, other OEMs and small-to-medium sized manufacturers, and it prepares customized training courses to equip industries’ workers with the tools needed for success in today’s dynamic economy.

In partnership with Nissan, CAVS’ Canton, Miss. extension offers skills training to employees at the company’s Canton assembly plant, in addition to the training programs the state has implemented for the eight Nissan models produced in Canton.

Nissan’s decade-long history in Mississippi is a testament to the state’s existing workforce strength in automotive manufacturing. Since locating in Canton, the company has been a story of continued expansion and job growth, recently celebrating the opening of its all-new 2015 Nissan Murano assembly line.

In July 2013, Nissan announced the creation of 800 new jobs and the addition of a supplier park at the Canton location to support production of the Murano. In May 2014, it announced an additional 500 jobs to support production of the Murano, bringing employment at the plant to more than 6,000. In March 2015, Nissan announced plans to invest another $160 million for a project that could create at least 1,000 new jobs.

The roll out of the 2015 Murano marks the first time the Murano has ever been produced in the U.S. The Canton plant became the global hub for Murano production, creating export opportunities in more than 100 markets worldwide and shifting the plant from a domestic manufacturer to a global one.

“This rollout of the Murano is a testament to the quality and ingenuity of Mississippi’s manufacturing workforce,” said Brent Christensen, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), the state’s lead economic development agency.

Another program helping to train students in advanced manufacturing is East Mississippi Community College’s (EMCC) Basic Manufacturing Skills Course. Developed over the past eight years by the EMCC, the 90-hour course covers computer literacy, blueprint reading, precision measurement, high-performance manufacturing, interviewing skills, CRP and the 10 Hour OSHA General Industry Safety Program.

Many large manufacturers in the area utilize this course as part of their screening and training process. According to the MDA, the program was critical to Yokohama Tire Manufacturing’s decision to locate its first U.S. commercial truck tire plant in Mississippi. Yokohama, expected to be operational by October 2015, will create 500 new jobs, with potential future expansions expected to bring that number up to 2,000.

Prior to taking the Basic Manufacturing Skills Course, potential applications to Yokohama must first take the WorkKeys Career Readiness Certification test. Individuals who score Silver or higher (scores range from Bronze, Silver, Gold, to Platinum) are eligible to take the Basic Manufacturing Skills course. The college then refers the successful completers to the company for interviews.

Demonstrating their commitment to the future of Northeast Mississippi, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, Inc. and the Mississippi Corridor Consortium are partnering in a new, innovative education-to-work program.

Known as the Advanced Manufacturing Technician program, it is designed as an innovative manufacturing degree that will span five semesters of classroom instruction and provide paid, hands-on experience at Toyota’s Blue Springs automotive assembly plant.

The curriculum includes instruction in areas including electricity, fluid power, mechanics, fabrication and robotics, as well as advanced manufacturing, business principles and best practices. Upon completion of the program, candidates will receive an associate’s degree.

Candidates who earn an AMT degree can compete for skilled positions across the country or may apply for any locally available positions at Toyota, its suppliers and any other locally-based companies.

The state’s strong manufacturing workforce presence also helped attract Demark-based ROXUL, Inc., a leading manufacturer of stone wool insulation products, to open its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Marshall County. The company broke ground on its 600,000-square-foot facility in May 2013.

MDA provided workforce training assistance for the project, which is creating 150 new jobs and often employed more than 500 workers during the construction process.


Job growth in the Gulf Coast for energy and manufacturing skilled trade workers is expected to nearly double in coming years. To meet this demand, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), the state’s workforce development agency, has enacted programs that are helping to prepare its workforce for these jobs. Last year, TWC provided 1.3 million job seekers with employment services.

TWC is part of Texas Workforce Solutions, a local and statewide network comprised of the agency, 28 workforce development boards and their contracted service providers and community partners. Workforce Solutions offices serve as career centers and provide a variety of free job-search resources, including workshops, job fairs, résumé writing assistance, access to computers and assistance with the agency’s job matching database.

TWC helps administer the Skills Development Fund (SDF), the state’s premier workforce development grant. From the program’s inception in 1996 through 2014, the SDF has worked with more than 4,000 employers to create or upgrade more than 316,000 jobs throughout TX.

The SDF supports certain joint-credit courses offered by school districts in partnership with public junior colleges, state colleges or technical institutions. The state is providing $450,000 to support the creation and expansion of dual-credit career and technical educations in Texas schools that are highly technical in nature, addressing local area demands for high-skill, high-demand and high-wage industries.

In February, 12 area school districts partnered with North Central Texas College (NCTC) to provide dual-credit certification using a $195,258 SDF grant, which allows training received in dual-credit curriculum to be used towards a Level 1, industry-recognized certificate in Welding Technology, Industrial Mechanics, HVAC and Machining Technology.

“The TWC is proud to support this valuable partnership between North Central Texas College and area high schools, which will provide dual-credit opportunities for students and accelerate their college and career pathways with high-demand skills training,” said Hope Andrade, TWC Representing Employers.

The TWC also has launched a new initiative, the Veteran and Industry Partnership (VIP), to help veterans get training to find jobs in the state’s most high-demand industries: information technology, advanced manufacturing and petrochemical.

“VIP recognizes the exceptional skills that veterans bring to the workforce and strives to connect them with jobs in expanding industries,” said Andres Alcantar, Texas Workforce Commission chairman. “We are proud to partner with these community colleges and Texas employers to train and place our heroes in high-demand occupations.”

Local workforce development boards have partnered with industry leaders and 17 colleges throughout Texas to identify high-demand workforce needs in local areas and develop expedited training programs for veterans as part of the VIP initiative. Short-term certificate attainment and industry-recognized credentials will be included in all three industry-training initiatives.

Among the benefits of hiring veterans, the work opportunity tax credit allows employers to receive up to a $9,600 tax credit on federal business income or payroll tax benefits when they hire a qualifying veteran.

The TWC also administers the Workforce Investment Agency (WIA) program, which provides workforce development activities designed to enhance the employability, occupational attainment, retention and earnings of adults, dislocated workers and youth.

In January 2015, TWC announced a $146,487 WIA grant for South Texas hospitals and South Texas College (STC) to launch the STC Nursing Mentorship Program to help identify and train preceptors from local acute-care hospitals to allow for growth of the nursing program and provide guidance for nursing students at STC.

The capacity-building grant will be used to prepare and train approximately 73 registered nurses (RN), increase the number of students admitted to the nursing program and provide increased job retention and improved job satisfaction among newly licensed nurses at local healthcare facilities.

The STC grant is part of a $500,000 WIA Allocation by TWC to fund training through its Healthcare Innovation Project, an initiative designed to meet the high demand for nurses in medically underserved areas and support high quality education for nursing students.

The project also includes SDF funding to support partnerships between colleges and employers to develop training for healthcare professionals, allowing them to advance their careers through certification or licensure in an allied healthcare program or specialized training for registered nurses. One such partnership is the Del Sol Medical Center and El Paso Community College, which received a $156,479 SDF grant in October 2014 to provide custom training for 247 new and incumbent workers so that they can maintain or earn certifications to provide quality patient care.