NASD members to consider joining city, county to hire workforce development director

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2021

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NATCHEZ — Local officials plan to meet Monday at 2 p.m. at the City of Natchez Council Chambers to discuss jointly hiring a workforce development director.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said the purpose of said meeting to be to establish a search committee, likely composed of city, county and school board members, and approve a job description and salary.

In a presentation he made during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Natchez Adams School District, Gibson suggested a $65,000 salary, which he said would be on-par with what other city department heads make.

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While no action was called for yet, Gibson asked the school board to consider joining the Monday meeting and going into an inter-local agreement with the city and county to split the cost three ways.

In a presentation to the Adams County Board of Supervisors earlier this month, Gibson named Tuwanna Higgins-Williams as a potential candidate to fill the position. She has experience in workforce development at the state Department of Employment Security and Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

“We want someone who has the talent, ability and connection in this community to identify individuals who are not currently in the job market to get them there,” Gibson said Tuesday.

“We will follow a process,” Gibson later said, adding Williams would still be a potential candidate.

Gibson told the school board that the position is much-needed. He said there is a surplus of 800 to 1,000 jobs in Adams County and more jobs still to come with industrial development projects underway — such as the $1.5 billion Velocys renewable fuel plant set to break ground at the Belwood Industrial Park as early as 2023.

With all these jobs, there also seems to be a lack of people able or willing to work and fill them.

“This is a problem not just in Natchez but all across the country,” Gibson said.

He added 50 percent of the population in Adams County is living at or below poverty level are in need of job training to bring more money home.

“When they have the earning capacity, everything else gets better,” he said. “We’ve got a great school system here and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise. … We have good teachers who are teaching and performing well under very tough situations. Our answer to that is workforce development.”

He said Natchez has many of the tools needed to build a workforce — naming Copiah Lincoln Community College, Alcorn State University Natchez, Fallin Career and Technology Center and the Winn Job Center — without anyone in place to coordinate the effort.

“We lack that one person that can coordinate all of this and make it all work together,” he said, adding such a person would also “find grant funds to help build on the programs that we have and add the needed programs that we don’t have.”

Board member and former mayor Phillip West said he had questions about the position, but “for another time.”

Board member Thelma Newsome, who attended Tuesday’s meeting via teleconference call, said the workforce development director “sounds like a great thing for our community” and asked her colleagues to consider being a part of it.

“I’m hoping that we will agree to meet and be part of that committee,” she said.