Technology council to help train new workers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Success in getting owners of a call center to locate here has inspired further efforts and future plans among members of a committee formed to assist technology-based businesses interested in Natchez.

The Natchez-Adams County Development Authority Technology Alliance Council originated as a way to demonstrate that the area is ready for tech-based companies, said Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority.

&uot;The tech-based business is one of our target areas,&uot; Ferdinand said. &uot;The call center probably wouldn’t have looked at us if we hadn’t had the alliance in place.&uot;

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The Kinard Group will open a call center on Main Street in the former Cable One building later this year. Workers will make bill-collecting calls on behalf of client companies, for instance. &uot;We’ve landed the call center and will continue to recruit call centers,&uot; Ferdinand said.

Establishing the technology council has helped the economic development office and others in the community to focus on what preparations must be made to put Natchez in the running for tech-based jobs, he said.

&uot;And it has let everyone on the council know what the other ones are doing. As an example, Co-Lin has facilities for training others in the group were not aware of.&uot;

Copiah-Lincoln Community College, both in Natchez and in Wesson, has taken part in council plans and activities, as have representatives of Alcorn State University in Natchez and in Lorman.

And now with a grant from ALCOA, Entergy and the Mississippi Technology Alliance, plans are under way to develop formal training for Natchez-area residents who want to be ready for new companies that might locate in Natchez.

In addition to Co-Lin and Alcorn, institutions represented on the Natchez council also include Britton & Koontz First National Bank, an Internet provider; the WIN Job Center, a program of the state Employment Security Commission; the Natchez-Adams County School District; the Mississippi Development Authority; and the Mississippi Technology Alliance.

&uot;We wanted members of the council to have some knowledge that would help us as a group,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;The WIN Job Center staff will take applications and screen applicants according to our requirements, for example.&uot;

Potential students can begin preparing in a couple of ways. &uot;Students must provide documentation that they have a high school diploma or GED,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;We will need to know if they have keyboarding experience, computer experience, collection experience or other.&uot;

The job center will schedule interviews over a two-day period. Those chosen for the program will sign a letter of agreement committing to the training.

&uot;The course is approximately 42 hours. Co-Lin will provide an instructor for each class,&uot; Kaiser said. Classes will include typewriting skills, computer skills and customer service skills. Specific to call center employment, courses in call center techniques and practices will be offered, as well.

One exciting possibility in the training is use of the Co-Lin mobile lab with laptop computers based in Wesson. &uot;If we can bring that in to help with training, we can park it right at the Natchez Convention Center. It will be very convenient for students, and it won’t cost anything.&uot;

Indeed, all the training will be free, Kaiser said. Some screening of students has begun and is moving more slowly than anticipated. However, Kaiser said she is pleased with all the work the council has contributed and is optimistic about the success of training and getting technology-based companies interested in Natchez because of it.

&uot;The last meeting was in October, when Entergy presented us with a $2,000 grant. The Mississippi Technology Alliance awarded the council a second $3,000 grant earlier this year,&uot; she said. &uot;We also received the John I Rucker Community Technology Leadership Award on Sept. 17, 2002.&uot;

&uot;The Mississippi Technology Alliance people said we had done an outstanding job of focusing on what a call center needs,&uot; Kaiser said. &uot;Mike has a good background with call centers from working with the state.&uot;

Ferdinand said Natchez has what it will take to attract more call centers, including the people &045; now with a training program in place to prepare them &045; as well as the buildings and the infrastructure.