Natchez faces ‘a lot of competition’ for workers

Published 8:00 am Sunday, July 23, 2023

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NATCHEZ — “It’s a tough market in a good way.”

That’s how Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson describes workforce development and the growth in Adams County.

City and county officials met this week with Tuwanna Williams, director of workforce development, to discuss the ongoing efforts to drive training and growth of available workers in the area.

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“It’s a tough market in a good way,” said Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson. “Never before have we had so many available jobs. I like to watch as kind of a barometer. You know, last year we hit a record of 600 job openings in our area. As of this morning, there were over 800 job openings on and that’s within a 35-mile radius of Natchez.

“So, there is a lot of competition for these workers. You can’t blame Syrah, but we’ve got to make sure we are drawing on this entire community to fill these jobs,” Gibson said.

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., said one of the issues is the lack of available workforce in Natchez for many jobs offered here.

“In my opinion, a place where we can move the needle in short order — I say short order. I mean over the next two or three years —is the labor participation rate,” he said. “It’s a stat that is becoming more and more important in our business in the competitive economic development world, a number that consultants are looking at.

“Our regional labor market participation rate is 47 percent. That means 53 percent of those that are of working age here are not in the labor market. Only 47 percent that are eligible to work are working. The state average is 56 percent. The national average is like 63 percent.

“When you look at the jobs on Indeed that the mayor mentioned, moving us from 47 percent to 55 percent labor participation would fill those 800 jobs, which is still under the state average, but would keep us competitive,” Russ said.

The workforce development program is a joint effort by the City of Natchez, Adams County and the Natchez-Adams School District. During this week’s update, Williams discussed recent grant funding, as well as the short-term, mid-term and long-term goals for workforce development, with aldermen, county supervisors and members of the school district’s board and administration. The group met at the Natchez Convention Center on Thursday morning.

Workforce development funding for the program now includes $453,653 from the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Workforce Program, which will continue each year for three years. Those grant funds will be used to train 250 workers who will be placed in actual open jobs that need to be filled in Natchez and Adams County. The workers trained can be displaced from previous jobs, be new to the workplace, such as students, or can be those who are underemployed.

Workforce development funding also includes $225,000 in grant funds for career coaching, as well as $156,000 for the Adams County Youth Court mentoring program.

Williams said the focus currently is to train workers in vocational technical-type jobs, such as electrical, plumbing, carpentry and brick masonry.

She pointed out to the group a newspaper article about donations Syrah Technology has made to Vidalia, Ferriday and Monterey high school, which will be used to train workers in skills Syrah seeks in its employees.

Some participants at the meeting said Syrah is drawing employees away from Natchez manufacturing businesses to its opportunities in Vidalia.

Increasing labor market participation is key to success of workforce development here, Russ said.

“We’ve talked to Tuwanna about moving that number and how we move that number. It takes a lot of community engagement…Trying to link those jobs to people on a daily basis is an important piece of this and should not be overlooked.

“It is important for the workforce development effort. At the end of the day, when the city, county and school judge the efforts, it can’t be just that Tuwanna brought home some bacon in the form of job grants. That is not what is going to be successful for this community long term,” Russ said. “It is did we get people to go to work and did we bring in jobs and train people to go to work in those jobs. That is the big overlying goal.”