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Official: Plenty of jobs available; skilled workforce needed

 

NATCHEZ — For one local economic development official, the Miss-Lou hasn’t been a good matchmaker when it comes to available jobs.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ told members of the Rotary Club of Natchez on Wednesday that the area has plenty of jobs, but not the skilled workforce to fill the jobs.

“We are constantly hearing there are no jobs available. It is simply not the case,” Russ said. “There are tons of jobs available (in the area).”

Russ said what the area doesn’t have is skilled labor to fill the jobs that are available.

Russ said each quarter, Natchez Inc. sits with local industry leaders to get an update on what is happening with their companies. During the most recent meeting, Russ said, approximately 13 facilities were represented.

“Every single one of them has job openings,” Russ said.

Russ said roughly 80 job openings were listed as available from local industry leaders. The numbers, Russ said, do not include Vidalia Mills and Syrah Resources who are just beginning to hire.

“If you looked at available jobs in a 60-mile search, there are over 900 jobs posted,” Russ said. “If you shrink that number down to a 35-mile radius you are still at  like 403 (jobs).”

Russ said many local industries are looking to hire as quickly as they can.

“If you can pick up a welding torch, you can walk into Great River Industries tomorrow and be hired making anywhere from $60,000 to $70,000,” Russ said.

The biggest challenge, Russ said, is attracting a skilled workforce.

“What we are seeing is you have a good group of people that want to go to work, and you have a set of jobs that are out there, and they are not necessarily matched up,” Russ said. “You have a ton of mismatched skills versus needs out there.”

Russ said he needs help from the community and from local business leaders to identify and attract people with the right skills.

“We have to make an effort, be willing to engage people outside the area to encourage them to come here,” Russ said.

Attracting a skilled workforce will continue to be a challenge, Russ said, as companies like Syrah Resources and Vidalia Mills bring 300 additional jobs to the area.

“We have to do a better job of attracting people into this market environment, so we can continue to grow and remain healthy and vibrant,” Russ said.

During his presentation, Russ also gave a quick update of new and existing projects in the area.

Syrah Resources

Russ said Syrah is up and running and has started making test batch runs for its graphite processing facility.

“They are actually waiting on us until they can go into full-scale production,” Russ said.

Because of the flooding of the Mississippi River, a gas line has yet to be extended to the facility. Russ said until the river drops below flood stage at 48 feet and remains below flood stage for more than 10-days, the gas line cannot be extended.

Vidalia Mills

Russ said Vidalia Mills is beginning to crank up and has started moving assembly line equipment into the facility.

Great River Industries

Great River Industries is planning to build a new headquarters on its property at the Natchez-Adams Port. The new building, Russ said, is in addition to the company’s recently completed $2 million expansion.

Jones Companies

Russ said Jones Companies on Martin Luther King Jr. Road is working on a $20 million expansion, adding 40 new jobs to its current staff of 70 employees.

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