Partnerships, skilled laborers keys to Cenla’s future

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

WOODWORTH — About 100 people attended a summit on the future of Central Louisiana Monday, April 19, at The Wesley Center.

Jim Clinton, CEO for the Cenla Advantage Partnership, welcomed attendees, who included educators, business and civic leaders as well as several students.

Cenla Advantage Partnership is a non-profit organization based in Alexandria dedicated to creating more and better economic opportunities in Central Louisiana, according to its Web site at www.cenla.org.

Clinton told the crowd this is the kickoff meeting to a process that will take at least six months worth of volunteer-led community forums to design a marketing approach to address 21st century Central Louisiana workforce issues.

Rod Noles introduced the event’s three keynote speakers addressing the almost four hourlong summit and recognized Cleco Corp. CEO Mike Madison with a leadership award.

The first speaker, David Cole, president of Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss., gave a presentation titled “The Roadmap: Community Partnerships, Success for Higher Education, Industry and the Economy of Northeast Mississippi.”

Cole reviewed the economic development history of Northeast Mississippi since 1948 and how the state, counties and cities joined with area community colleges and universities to form a regional development force.

“The one thing everyone knows is that partnerships work,” Cole said.

Cole added that as the educational level of a region’s workforce increases, its unemployment level decreases.

Cole cited required job skills climbed from 65 percent in unskilled labor in the year 1950 to the level of 65 percent in skilled labor by the year 2000.

“The goal is to raise a culture that’s not through with school until finished with college,” Cole said.

Cole emphasized not to allow a surveyor’s boundary lines drawn in the 1800s to limit cross-jurisdictional cooperation for attracting industry.

Cole said Lee County, Mississippi, has 200 existing industries, including Toyota and the motion-furniture industry, and urged leaders to “get up every morning running” for industry to end up in Central Louisiana.

The next speaker was Pete Johnson, federal co-chair for Delta Regional Authority, a federal/state partnership agency created in 2000 designed to remedy chronic distress in its eight-state region by strengthening economic development.

Johnson said global economic trends have caused economic developers to rethink their models for growth.

By the year 2011, there will be more jobs than people to fill them, which is important because those workers with skills and talent can go anywhere they want to live, Johnson said.

Also by 2011, members of the Baby Boomer generation will begin to retire, so leaders need to target Generation Y born before 1980 who are age 26 to 41 and Generation X born after 1980 who are under age 26, Johnson noted.

Cenla has to work smarter because unskilled jobs are going to China and other Asian nations where workers make 25 cents a day, Johnson said, adding that “unless we do something, our people will keep getting poorer.”

The final speaker was Ronnie L. Bryant, president and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, whose presentation was titled “Building the Region: Why We Must Plan and Act Together.”

Bryant said we need economic development to improve prosperity in our region and outlined seven trends in economic development.

These included performance evaluation, regionalism, globalization, specialization, return on investment, benchmarking and “economic gardening” or preparing infrastructure for businesses locating to a region.

Bryant said five new economic realities include:
(1) we are in a global economy;
(2) the pace of change will continue to accelerate;
(3) the components of competitiveness can no longer be pursued separately;
(4) partnerships with the private sector is critical; and
(5) innovation is the only sustainable development.

“The public sector cannot lead your regional private sector development — the focus is different,” Bryant said.

Investment activity has choices with regard to location and Central Louisiana is only one of those choices, Bryant said.

For more information about the summit, go on-line to www.cenla.org.

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