Mississippi County has traditionally been one of the poorer counties in Arkansas in terms of unemployment rates, per capita income, and job availability. There has been a movement in recent years to change the economic conditions and part of that effort bared fruit Monday. The county became the first in Arkansas to be designated as an ACT (American College Testing) Work Ready Community, East Arkansas Planning and Development District Economic and Community Development Manager Emily Hathcock told Talk Business & Politics.
There are four other counties in Northeast Arkansas – Craighead, Cross, Phillips, and Randolph – that should be certified within the next six months. Crittenden, Greene, Lawrence, Lee, Poinsett, and St. Francis counties are among the 19 counties in the state that are seeking this designation, Hathcock said.
“Today’s achievement by Mississippi County demonstrates that when we work together as a region, unlimited opportunities await. It shows to the region’s existing and prospective companies, that we in East Arkansas have a trainable workforce with the skills to compete. We have local leaders committed to making sure this trend continues for the benefit of our citizens and communities,” said Melissa Rivers, Executive Director of East Arkansas Planning & Development District.
The certification will help the county in economic development and recruitment. The goal is to link workforce development and education and meld it with employers’ needs, according to information released. Mississippi County started work towards the certification in December 2015. The Delta Regional Authority gave a $105,000 grant to aid in the effort, Hathcock said.
At least 60 local employers, educational institutions, and workforce development organizations led with support. Big River Steel, Tenaris, Southworth Products, Viskase Companies Inc., and other companies were among those that participated. To become certified, three areas are considered: high school graduation rates, number of ACT National Career Readiness Certificates (NCRC) credentials attained in the county, and the number of employers recognizing NCRC. In Mississippi County, the NCRC credential is administered by Arkansas Northeastern College.
Applied math, reading for information, and locating information are three core skills emphasized in NCRC training. Since the ACT NCRC initiative was started in 2006, at least 2.75 million workers nationwide have received this training, according to information released.
Since 2012, at least 1,159 students have completed the class offered at ANC. In the emerging category, which typically applies to students who are about to enter the workforce, at least 521 have completed the NCRC training.
The designation is just one more tool the county can use to lure business and industries. It’s an indication of how educated the work populous is, officials said. Recently, Site Selection Magazine added the number of National Career Readiness Certificates per 1,000 residents as part of its tabulations for its annual Top Ten Competitive States report. In addition, companies report that knowing a job candidate has foundational, verifiable workplace skills expedites the hiring process.
“DRA congratulates Mississippi County and EAPDD for their diligence and commitment to becoming an ACT Work Ready Community,” DRA Chairman Chris Masingill said. “This initiative helps identify gaps in job skills and provides a reliable way to train employable candidates to promote economic development in the community. Developing actionable data and specific workforce goals will provide businesses the information they need to build and grow their operations in Mississippi County.”