Community Business & Industry Partnership Tackles Local Workforce Issues

Barbara Kieker

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Finding job-ready new hires; helping proven employees advance, developing middle managers. These were some of the top workforce issues discussed by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Community Business & Industry Partnership in its fall-quarter event with local business and education leaders.

"We've reached out to businesses to learn about the opportunities for growth and the impediments to growth and we heard a common theme – workforce issues," said Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority Project Manager Allan Ricketts.

Established in 2012 by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, the Community Business & Industry Partnership includes key economic development professionals at the local, regional and state level and is designed to help existing industries grow, invest and create jobs.

Tackling Workforce Issues
At the quarterly event on August 20, leaders from manufacturing, distribution and logistics businesses, as well as education will came together to discuss the challenges businesses face in hiring and developing a strong workforce. In 60 to 90 days, the approximately 30-member group will reconvene to review opportunities to address workforce issues through a variety of education programs.

"It's not just a Lowndes County issue; it's an issue around the country," said the Chamber's Economic Development Director Varian Brown.

"In less than ten years, we expect there will be an issue in filling jobs in our community, so we want to be proactive. We want to understand what businesses need, what resources are available to meet those needs and then match the two.”

According to Ricketts, businesses identified three distinct workforce issues. The first issue is finding candidates for entry-level positions who have the requisite skills.

"Basic skills include reading and writing, math and computational skills and a strong work ethic," Ricketts said.

The second workforce issue involves development of existing employees. Locally available training programs are needed to help employees with demonstrated ability move up.

The third issue is the development of middle managers, which can require advanced programs in management and supervision.

Leveraging Local Education Resources
With Valdosta State University, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Georgia Military College and strong local school systems, Valdosta and Lowndes County have a variety of quality education resources to meet business needs.

"Our leaders in education have demonstrated a willingness to engage with local businesses," Ricketts said.

"Following our meeting on August 20, which we're calling a listening session, our education leaders will come back with their ideas on the types of reading and writing programs, certificate programs and advanced programs they could offer."

According to Ricketts, the turnaround time on implementing the education programs could be short. High school level programs in reading and writing are already under development and could launch before the end of the year. Some certificate programs through Wiregrass could launch in 2013 and others in 2014. Advanced programs in management and supervision could potentially launch in early 2014.

"We've been talking and thinking about these types of programs for a long time and people are leaning forward," Ricketts said.

"We've also got a new university president at VSU, a new president at Wiregrass and new superintendents at both public school districts so the time is right."

While the first workforce-issues meeting is focused on manufacturing, distribution and logistics, the Community Business & Industry Partnership is formulating plans now to extend its efforts to other sectors. Among those under consideration are call center operations and medical technical skills.

"Our community has a strong economy that is already very diverse. We have a great opportunity to build a stronger workforce and at the same time give people the opportunity to better themselves," Brown said.

More information on the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority is available at and more information on the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce is available at


About Barbara Kieker

Barbara Kieker is a freelance writer who writes on business-related topics for a number of web-based properties. She also provides communications services to Fortune 500 corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.