By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Paging Northeast Mississippi expatriates.
Do you have a desire to return to the place where you grew up or to the region where you attended college? If so, you’re in demand.
The arrival of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi and its suppliers, and their general impact on the region, will place a demand that the work force will not immediately be able to fill.
Companies will seek skills that are in short supply locally, from high-tech manufacturing expertise to professional experience desired by companies that expand as a result of the automaker’s presence.
The regions’ community colleges, colleges and universities will amplify programs to train residents for these needs. But people from outside also will be needed to fill gaps.
And the easiest way to attract outsiders is to reach out to those who already have a connection to Northeast Mississippi, said David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.
With that in mind, CDF is developing a campaign to bring back those who have lived here and left.
They might be people who attended elementary or high school in the area before leaving for college and not returning. They also could be Ole Miss or Mississippi State graduates who now realize that the state has more to offer than stereotypes indicate.
“One of the goals we have is to continue to diversify the type of companies we have,” said Shane Homan, CDF senior vice president of economic development. “That means more knowledge-type employers who need different skill sets than were typical over the last few decades. One of the opportunities and challenges we have is the recruitment of new talent here.”
Since last summer, CDF has been exploring ways to lure those expatriates home. The plan is still preliminary, but likely will lean heavily on social networking.
It could also include visits to cities with large numbers of former Northeast Mississippians.
“We will need to connect with those people socially, communicate to them what is available for them to move back for and what community opportunities are available to them,” Homan said.
Often young people moved away for better jobs or amenities. But now, Rumbarger said, the region offers more than ever.
“The idea is so simple and so logical,” Rumbarger said. “We have plenty of jobs open for people with the right skills.
“We are trying to get ex-pats in Norfolk, Houston, San Antonio or Casper, Wyo., and hook them up for these jobs. How to do that is the $64,000 question.”
Former residents are being sought primarily because they are the ones most likely to return.
“It is our first focus because it is our lowest-hanging fruit,” Homan said. “These are people with some connection to their community. It is the most likely demographic we can focus on.”
Rumbarger and Homan acknowledge that not everyone will want to return. Research and interviews with university placement counselors lead them to believe that the most difficult group to reach will be recent college graduates in their 20s who want to experience life elsewhere.
The sweet spot, they say, is the group about 10 years older.
“Where we are seeing the most potential is with people in the 30- to 40-year-old range,” Homan said. “They are trying to start a family, and they are trying to move back to a community that would embrace their family and maintain their quality of life.
“They would have years of work experience and would be more valuable because they would have maturity.”
The effort also is focused on keeping recent Ole Miss and Mississippi State graduates close, before they leave.
That includes internships that allow the university students to experience working in Northeast Mississippi, Homan said.
Noted Rumbarger: “The recession has brought grounding to the dream of, ‘I’ll go to California and make my living.’”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org.