The annual Existing Industry Appreciation Luncheon, held at the Alcorn County Extension Building and sponsored by Alcorn County Electric Association, featured a Mississippi Development Authority staff member whose longtime focus has been existing industry, William “Skip” Scaggs.
As director of MDA’s Global Investment and Retention Division, Scaggs has a two-pronged responsibility: retaining and recruiting new business and industry and promoting Mississippi-made products around the world.
“Economic development is a topsy turvy world,” Scaggs said. “It’s a situation where there are more competitors than there are customers. That forces you to focus on what you’re really good at, your niche.”
Although it’s important in economic development to constantly reach out to bring new businesses and industries in, extending ongoing support to the industries you have must always be the first priority, he said.
Seven regional offices of MDA in locations throughout the state establish and maintain communication with the industries in their regions.
MDA works with companies and uses many metrics to help gauge the business environment and help find solutions to problems.
Of the 11 Alcorn County companies interviewed this year, many of those metrics fell in the favorable or positive range, such as strong support for employee training through Northeast Mississippi Community College Workforce Development and use of the WIN Job Center for employee recruitment.
However, in some areas the workforce pipeline is not adequate, Scaggs said, with jobs going unfilled because potential applicants do not have the necessary skills.
“What’s missing,” Scaggs said, “are basic computer skills, people who can pass a drug test. Some of these are generational challenges and are a problem nationwide.”
Many steady, competent employees with a good work ethic are aging out of the workplace, and cities around Mississippi are using a variety of strategies to respond to these issues: using summer programs that introduce students to the manufacturing environment and expectations, having managers observe in classrooms to make both students and teachers aware that employers are counting on them.