OUR OPINION: Search for jobs works on two regional fronts

Economic opportunity and employment needs bookended this week in two big issues affecting Lee County and Northeast Mississippi.

Itawamba Community College hosted more than 200 people at job fairs this week, and many are or soon will be former employees of Lane Furniture Industries, which is closing its 480-employee Saltillo plant, further reducing its jobs imprint in the region.

The turnout for the job fairs demonstrates the eagerness of Northeast Mississippians to seek new work in the face of abrupt, uncontrollable changes in their job situations.

The job fairs, one at the Saltillo plant and another at the ICC Tupelo campus, paralleled conversations in Jackson involving Gov. Phil Bryant, Cooper Tire top executives and Community Development Foundation leaders about a big incentives package to help ensure a larger investment and more jobs for the long term at Cooper’s Tupelo plant.

Many of the leading Northeast Mississippi industries have over time been the beneficiary of state, federal and local; incentives packages similar to what Cooper seeks.

The furniture industry’s struggles aren’t isolated in Northeast Mississippi. The situation is tough nationwide.

However, when people with decades of on-line manufacturing experience seek new jobs when old ones cease, that seems a good match for somebody looking for an experienced workforce.

ICC’s participation in the process is well- established, linked to assessing skills and pointing people in the right directions and in offering training for jobs as they’re created or upgraded.

Several companies, including some furniture manufacturers, attended, looking for workers, as Business Editor Dennis Seid reported.

“We’re adding a frame mill, and we’re hoping to have it operating by July or August,” said H.M. Richards HR Director Brad Boyd. “This is a chance to hire some good people. …”

It would be unusual for a single industry to provide the need for all those who have lost jobs in the Lane decision, but small numbers of hires from a variety of employers can have strong impact on household incomes added together.

Before the job fair opened, representatives of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security offered “rapid response” services, which included help with jobless benefits information.