Greene County Industrial Training Consortium an ‘important’ economic development tool for Northeast Arkansas

by George Jared ([email protected]) 241 views 

Greene County is the second largest county in Northeast Arkansas, and its economy is largely fueled by thriving manufacturing and agriculture sector jobs. The median income in the county is $41,286 – one of the highest in the region.

In 1995, Arkansas lawmakers passed Act 791 which allowed the formation of local industrial consortiums to provide job training on a broad level. One requirement for these consortiums was that they had to get those training services through a local community college.

Business leaders in Greene County formed the Greene County Industrial Training Consortium in 1998, and through a partnership with Black River Technical College, it has been able to provide a variety of jobs training services to thousands of workers in the county, Director of Corporate and Community Education Alan Decker told Talk Business & Politics.

“If you can’t take care of the businesses you have … then it’s really hard to recruit new businesses. Our goal is to help their workforce gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

In 2016, at least 2,812 workers received some form of training at the GCITC located on the BRTC Paragould campus. The number of workers trained last year was average for the consortium, Decker said. Paragould is the county seat in Greene County and its largest city. Computer classes, leadership, OSHA seminars, industrial electric training, and a myriad of other courses are offered, according to GCITC. Computer training seems to be an ever growing part of the curriculum, he said.

Paragould Chamber of Commerce CEO Sue McGowan said the consortium is significant in recruitment. Manufacturing companies need cost-effective and efficient ways to educate workers, she said.

“It’s a really important tool for us,” she said.

Some of the area’s biggest employers, including American Railcar Industries are members of the consortium. ARI announced in August it would expand its nearly 1,200 employee workforce by 60 more workers. Corbitt Manufacturing, a component maker operation within ARI, opened a $3.5 million facility to provide components to ARI’s plants in Paragould and Marmaduke.

Tenneco, a Chicago based company that makes shock absorbers, struts, and other auto parts, employs about 1,200 employees at its Paragould manufacturing plant. In 2015, the company had $8.2 billion in global sales, according to published reports. The Paragould facility primarily builds shocks.

Black River Technical College benefited in an unexpected way from the formation of the consortium. After it was launched, the need for higher education in the Paragould area became so great, the school built an academic wing onto the consortium building. Students can get two year degrees in multiple programs on the campus, Decker said.

Workforce training remains a central component on the campus. A variety of vocational training courses for welding certifications, electrical apprenticeships, and others are offered, Decker said. One former welding student, who is now in his early 20s, recently visited the campus. The student made $87,000 last year and only had to work seven months out of the year.

“Not everyone is going to go to college and get a four year degree,” he said. “We want to help as many students as we can break out of poverty … we really want to meet and exceed the needs of our students and business partners.”