Starkville Daily News - - AROUND TOWN -

are look­ing at is­sues that are go­ing to have a big im­pact on our econ­omy and a big im­pact on our work­force.”

MEC then brings the com­mu­nity voices to the state leg­is­la­ture with the goal of im­prov­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Mis­sis­sippi.

“Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. That's a very, very key is­sue for us,” Waller said. “We have to be fo­cus­ing on all of the things that are go­ing to make it eas­ier for Mis­sis­sippi to com­pete when it comes to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.”

Waller be­gan his pre­sen­ta­tion by ask­ing Ro­tary mem­bers for their opin­ion on the state of Mis­sis­sippi's econ­omy com­pared to sur­round­ing states.

Ques­tion: How would you de­scribe Mis­sis­sippi's econ­omy?

49 per­cent said Mis­sis­sippi is about the same as the sur­round­ing states 43 per­cent said Mis­sis­sippi is worse than the sur­round­ing states

7 per­cent said Mis­sis­sippi is bet­ter than the sur­round­ing states

Waller found the results en­cour­ag­ing.

“That's en­cour­ag­ing be­cause we've been do­ing this ques­tion a lot over the last three or four years and those num­bers are re­ally start­ing to shift to those top two cat­e­gories,” Waller said. “That's one of the rea­sons we're ex­cited about what's ahead be­cause we are start­ing to see the tides turn and put us into a po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful.”

Next, Waller asked mem­bers for their opin­ion on the state of Mis­sis­sippi's econ­omy now com­pared to the past.

Ques­tion: In your opin­ion, is Mis­sis­sippi's econ­omy bet­ter off to­day than it was five years ago?

81 per­cent said yes 14 per­cent said no 5 per­cent said not sure “We have been in the 80s at every meet­ing, which tells me there is a strong, strong be­lief that our econ­omy is get­ting bet­ter,” Waller said. “And I think when you go around the state and you see the ac­tiv­ity that's taking place I think you are re­ally start­ing to see that.”

Dur­ing the rest of the pre­sen­ta­tion, Waller shifted his fo­cus to the im­pact dif­fer­ent strate­gies of work­force de­vel­op­ment could have on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Mis­sis­sippi.

“Where do we take our work­force (so it can reach) the next level?” Waller asked.“I'm go­ing to spend a great deal of time talk­ing about work­force de­vel­op­ment. When I go across the state, that is the one is­sue that al­ways comes up. It's the num­ber one thing peo­ple feel like we need to be fo­cus­ing on.”

Waller be­gan with an­other ques­tion, which fo­cused on Starkville's work­force pre­pared­ness.

Ques­tion: How pre­pared is the work­force in your area to meet the needs of to­day's ex­ist­ing in­dus­tries and the jobs of the fu­ture?

76 per­cent said some­what pre­pared

13 per­cent said not at all pre­pared

8 per­cent said very pre­pared

“Why is this so im­por­tant?” Waller probed.

Waller said Mis­sis­sippi of­fi­cials an­nounced the low­est unem­ploy­ment rate recorded in the state's his­tory a year ago.

“But then right af­ter that they started talk­ing about the num­ber of jobs are avail­able,” Waller said.

Mis­sis­sippi Works re­ports there are ap­prox­i­mately 40,000 un­filled jobs in Mis­sis­sippi cur­rently, but ac­cord­ing to the Mis­sis­sippi Depart­ment of Em­ploy­ment Se­cu­rity, Mis­sis­sippi's unem­ploy­ment rate is at 4.7 per­cent.

“So why are those that are not work­ing, not?” Waller asked. “We be­lieve that we have to re­ally fo­cus on get­ting them the skills that they are go­ing to need to be suc­cess­ful.”

In fact, Man­power Group found in a sur­vey that 46 per­cent of U.S. em­ploy­ers re­port dif­fi­culty in fill­ing open po­si­tions, with skilled trade po­si­tions as the hard­est to fill.

“We have to be fo­cus­ing on how we're mak­ing sure we're get­ting skills to these stu­dents and to any of our adult work­force that need it,” Waller said.

When Waller asked what the great­est work­force skill set was that was needed in the Starkville com­mu­nity to­day, 70 per­cent of Ro­tary mem­bers said ca­reer and tech­ni­cal pre­pared­ness with work­force cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and/or a twoyear de­gree was the great­est lo­cal as­set.

Waller said many com­mu­ni­ties are see­ing a need in tech­ni­cal and ca­reer pre­pared­ness, but Man­power Group sur­veys in­di­cate a need for em­ploy­ment in jobs that re­quire a bach­e­lors de­gree as well.

“So we've got to be fo­cused on (pre­par­ing) both (work­forces),” Waller said.

Waller said he be­lieves help­ing stu­dents find their pas­sion is a key com­po­nent of the work­force de­vel­op­ment. The next step is pre­par­ing them for those pas­sions.

“I think the key is help­ing stu­dents find that pas­sion. Fo­cus on the types of train­ing and de­grees that is go­ing to put them in the work­place,” Waller said. “I think some­times, though, the guid­ance that they get does not put them in the right place to (be in the work­place).”

A study by McKin­sey & Com­pany re­ports 30 per­cent of col­lege grad­u­ates en­ter­ing the work­force don't feel pre­pared, 53 per­cent are not work­ing in their cho­sen field and 53 per­cent would choose a dif­fer­ent field or col­lege if they could go back.

Waller en­cour­aged lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to ad­dress this is­sue.

“So as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, as com­mu­nity lead­ers, we have to be think­ing about ways that we can help these stu­dents ex­plore ca­reer path­ways that will make them suc­cess­ful and then cel­e­brate that suc­cess when we do it,” Waller said.

Waller asked the Ro­tary mem­bers a fi­nal ques­tion on lo­cal eco­nomic growth.

Ques­tion: Where do you see the great­est op­por­tu­nity for eco­nomic growth in your re­gion?

53 per­cent said ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing

16 per­cent said start-up com­pa­nies

14 per­cent said re­tail and ser­vice

Waller chal­lenged the com­mu­nity to help the fu­ture work­force of Mis­sis­sippi.

“My chal­lenge to you in the work­force toady is to help our fu­ture work­force find that pas­sion,” Waller said. “We must value all jobs. For so long, if you weren't go­ing to col­lege, you weren't con­sid­ered suc­cess­ful.”

Waller said he is op­ti­mistic for Mis­sis­sippi's eco­nomic fu­ture.

“I think we're in a po­si­tion in Mis­sis­sippi where we can do some ex­tra­or­di­nary things,” Waller said. “We have to have a vi­sion that's go­ing to set us apart.”

“If we have a vi­sion, if we work to­gether, we can make a dif­fer­ence,” Waller con­cluded. “We can im­prove our work­force, we can pro­vide those op­por­tu­ni­ties, we can help our chil­dren find that pas­sion. But more im­por­tantly, we can make Mis­sis­sippi a bet­ter place.”

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